Size / / /

In the eighth installment of Writing While Disabled, Kristy Anne Cox interviews Claire Light.

 


(KAC): Hello, and welcome again, readers, to Writing While Disabled today! I'm here with the fabulous Claire Light, on Zoom. Claire also writes as Jadie Jang. Hi Claire, how's it going?

(CL): It's going great. Thanks for asking. Excellent.

(KAC): Readers, Claire lives in the San Francisco Bay area, and uses she/her pronouns. She's a writer, a cultural worker, and an activist. She co-founded Hyphen magazine, an annual Emerging Artist Festival called APAture, and the Disability Justice League, Bay Area. She also works with the Kearney Street Workshop.

Monkey Around is her debut novel! Monkey Around is written under the pen name Jadie Jang. It’s a contemporary fantasy that came out in 2021, with Solaris Books. Her short fiction collection, Slightly Behind and to the Left, came out in 2009 from Aqueduct Press, written as Claire Light.

So, Claire! Welcome to Writing While Disabled. Thank you so much for being here with us!

(CL): Thanks so much for having me!

(KAC): Would you mind telling us a little more about yourself and your work?

(CL): I think we kind of covered it there. Is there anything in particular you'd like to know about?

(KAC): What exactly does “cultural worker” mean?

(CL): A cultural worker is a term we use hereabout, in the Bay Area. People who work in arts and culture, people who use arts and culture as their tool to promote representation, to promote social justice, to promote particular causes. Art, artists and writers, teachers, arts administrators, arts funders, people who also work in culture, in media and in humanities. Promoting the creation of culture. Not merely studying the culture but promoting the creation of culture.

(KAC): Also preserving it, or holding space for it?

(CL): Right. The emergent artists festival that I helped create, it's actually an Asian American and Pacific Islander American Emergent Artist Festival, APAture. I co-founded Hyphen magazine, which is an Asian American music culture magazine.

(KAC): Thank you. May I ask, what disability communities do you identify with?

(CL): I have chronic illnesses, plural.

I'm a spoonie. I'm someone whose illnesses cause fatigue, limitation on the amount of energy you have. I have to pace myself. I have to ration my energy. I'm house-bound a lot, and I spend a lot of time not really doing very much, because I've run out of spoons, or units of energy. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is the most debilitating illness I have, but I also have several less debilitating ones.

(KAC): And those disabilities make travel difficult, conventions difficult.

(CL): Yeah.

(KAC): How do you break that down for people who don't have it?

(CL): It’s very difficult. On a really fundamental level, more or less healthy people are used to reaching for energy and always finding it. Even when you’re tired, you don't feel like doing anything, you’ve had a long day, and you come home, your partner says, you haven't taken out the garbage. You don't feel like it. But it has to be done, because the pickup is tomorrow. Maybe your ass is dragging the whole way, but you to pick yourself up, get the garbage taken out. Yeah. It's impossible to truly understand what it's like to reach for that energy, and have it not be there. Not to be sick, not to feel unwell, not to feel tired even, necessarily, but just to reach for the energy to do an ordinary thing, and have it not be there, and not be able to get up out of the seat. It’s really fundamental, basic building blocks level. You reach for the basic human wherewithal to do normal everyday tasks, and it's not there.

(KAC): Yeah.

(CL): So, that's what the illness is like. It’s a lot more complex than that. There's a lot more to it. You go way out of your way to avoid reaching that point, which is what the rationing of energy is about, and what the pacing yourself and spending a lot of time resting is about, to avoid reaching a point where there's something that you have to do immediately, you reach for the energy to do it, and it’s not there.

(KAC): You don't want to hit the brick wall.

(CL): Yeah. You have to prioritize.

(KAC): Yeah. Ok, let’s get to the book.

(CL): Yeah, absolutely.

(KAC): Readers, I am holding up a copy of Monkey Around. This is a colorful cover. It's got pastel swirls. You can see a person running across the word ‘around. ’A fox up in the top left. A big cat, down here on the left. Very colorful and bright. I really like this cover.

(CL): I love the cover.

(KAC): Yeah. Is that the San Francisco Bridge?

(CL): That's the Golden Gate Bridge. The person who's running has a staff and a monkey tail.

(KAC): It’s just a lovely cover. Would you tell us about this book?

(CL):  The book is an urban fantasy, about a female Monkey King living in San Francisco. She’s like myself, Chinese and white, and she has all the powers of the Chinese Monkey King. For those who don't know, the Monkey King is a character from a classic Chinese novel, Journey To the West. The Monkey King is probably the most well-known and popular mythological cultural figure in the Sino-sphere. A classic trickster, neither good nor bad, chaotic and destructive.

(KAC): Why did you go with Monkey King instead of queen?

(CL): I didn't want there to be any ambiguity. I wanted people to be very clear that this is a female Monkey King, the Monkey King character. It is not some, some queen of the monkeys from something else.

(KAC): This is the archetypal character.

(CL): Yeah. Yeah.

(KAC): How did you decide how much of the original character to bring into the story?

(CL): I decided I wasn't gonna do Journey to the West in San Francisco. I was going to take a female Monkey king with all the monkey king's powers, put her in the middle of my life, my community, and see what she did with it. For fun, give her a supernatural murder mystery to figure out, and leave it that.

(KAC): And it's not just a murder mystery. It's also a romance.

(CL): Yes. There's a little bit of a love triangle in there. I love urban fantasy, but so much of it is just so problematic.

One of the things I love about urban fantasy is that so much of it is woman-centered now, professional women in contemporary urban life, and how they approach power dynamics. Urban fantasy does a fantastic job of reiterating that in these supernatural ways. But what's problematic about it—is that the romances, I love love triangles, but there's always this love triangle between the woman and an alpha male on the one hand, and a lone wolf on the other. She has to choose between these two like, very dominant men. She's physically weaker than the two males. I didn't want that. I wanted to take that structure, and work with it differently. So, I gave her more power than anybody. I mean, it's not hard to do. The Monkey King is more powerful than everybody else. But she is defeatable by her psychology because she's got so many issues.

I wanted to go into that whole bizarre problematic issue with alpha males in urban fantasy, and say, you know, that's not always the power dynamic in women's lives. What do you do, when you are a really smart, really strong-minded woman in the world? And you come up upon men who, on the one hand, don't want to dominate you, but on the other hand, they're kind of intimidated by your power. That's another power dynamic that nobody ever talks about.

(KAC): Yeah. One struggle with a powerful character can be, how do I give this character obstacles that are gonna feel meaningful? Then, even if you're superman, you have a limited amount of time in which to save people falling off buildings, right? You have to decide where you're gonna put your time. Is that kind of the constraining factor for this character?

(CL): No, it's not about time. She can stop people from hurting her, she can protect other people. But that's it. That's all she can do if she wants to live a life.

One of the other things I hate about urban fantasy is that the female central character is almost always police or some kind of investigator-enforcer type person. I wanted her to be an activist. She’s a leader in her community. Not because she's like a dominating enforcer-type of person, but because she has natural leadership qualities. People look to her for help. She gathers people, she gets people to work together. She's not wrangling power dynamics as somebody who's weaker, she's wrangling power dynamics as someone who could easily overpower everybody. But that won't get her what she wants.

(KAC): And that won't play well because of who she is.

(CL): Yeah.

(KAC): So, you're doing a lot with shape shifters in this book. A lot of our readers are going to be familiar with werewolf stories from a more western framework, or they might be thinking [of] Mystique from the X-Men, right? What type of shape shifters are you describing in this book?

(CL): Well, they're similar to Mystique. In Asian cultures, there tend to be multiple creatures who shift into multiple shapes. They're extremely powerful tricksters. Tricksters are agents of change. They create change by throwing everything into chaos. Then it lands again, reorders itself somehow. You have to be flexible to cause change, you have to be. So, there's flexibility inherent in the shapeshifter. They're natural metaphors for code switching, which immigrant communities have to do.

People in immigrant communities, in urban centers, have to code switch. Not just between the mainstream culture and the culture of their communities. Asian communities, especially traditionally, have been situated between white and Black communities deliberately, to be a buffer zone, to buffer the white people from the scarier dark people. So, you have a lot of immigrant communities, and marginalized communities abutting them. Then a lot of times, you'll have marginalized communities like queer communities, who are relegated to black area of town, the Latinx area of town. Because the wealthier white people don't want weirdos having their bars and their clubs in the nicer parts of town. So, you'll have little islands of different types of marginalization. Disabled resources will end up in the” wrong side of the tracks,” because people don't want to see people wheeling in and out of a disabled resource area in their wheelchairs and [in] their, nice part of town. So, you'll have these islands of marginalized communities in larger ethnic enclaves and BIPOC areas. You've got a lot of code switching happening in a lot of different directions.

There's just a lot of crossover. You'll have a lot of very particular dialects, interesting dialectical lingua francas that will arise just in those particular areas. You've got a lot of code switching, and code switching itself is an agent of change.

A lot of stuff going on in these cities never gets depicted. Immigrant narratives tend to focus just on the one community, one story, the parent-child culture clash story. Getting out of that and writing an urban fantasy is a way of pulling away from that trope.

(KAC):  Well, I love how you do that in Monkey Around.

I wanted to ask you about writing as an Asian American author, about stereotypes that you are trying to push back against in your work. What things would you like to see more of and less of?

(CL): I don't really think too much about stereotypes. I mean, that one stereotype that Chinatowns, ethnic enclaves, are a piece of that other country brought into [this] country, you know, I hate that, but you know, you don't have to think about fighting against stereotypes if you're thinking about representing your people as you know them. You don't have to worry about the stereotypes, you're just putting the truth out there and it's ... it is what it is.

In thinking about it right now. I guess there's a stereotype of Asian women being  submissive, and quiet, and da-da-da-da. Which is, of course, not my experience at all. Asian-American communities in San Francisco are basically run by women. The organizations are mostly run by women. There's just a shit ton of fierce, incredibly talented, incredibly smart and outspoken women in these communities. All I had to do was make up some characters who were kind of like the women I know.

And then, the stereotype of Asian men as also being kind of submissive, kind of sly, and untrustworthy, and all that stuff, you know, again, all I had to do was just represent them as I know them. Although Todd is kind of sly and untrustworthy, but that's because he is a trickster. And of course, I myself have collaborated a lot with my counterparts in the Latinx community in San Francisco. So, I deliberately included several representatives of that community in this book. I brought in the gang element because impoverished immigrant communities have to deal with the gang element. They have to deal with organized crime. But also, because it is a representation of the  kind of demimondes that the supernatural exists in. If you talk about, like, the supernatural being underground, you have to talk about the criminal underground as well. You don't have to go out there and do the opposite of stereotypes. You just show what you see.

(KAC): I love what you're saying here because it connects to what you were saying earlier too about community building and relationships. A lot of times, people will approach writing a character who's different from them, like, I'm gonna sit in a room alone and I'm gonna imagine what that would be like. I'm gonna do all my research, and I'm gonna be very careful not to make these specific mistakes. You're talking about a completely different approach. I'm part of a community, and the characters are gonna feel true because they're based on all these real people that I know. I like the way that pushes against this writer stereotype anyway, that the writer is this solitary hermit living in a cabin on a lake. I love the idea of a writer as a social being. Is writing a connective act for you?

(CL): Oh yeah, absolutely. It's 100% part of my practice. My practice involves writing, it involves teaching, writing, presenting the arts, you know, advocating for other artists, advocating for a variety of people in a variety of ways. It's not like, different careers. It's like the whole practice, it all works together, and if I remove any one piece of it makes the other pieces harder. Not being able to work—I did have to finally quit working, and go completely freelance, because of my illness. But, that has actually taken me away from a lot of the source of a lot of what I write. What I'm writing now is kind of drifting away from that kind of activist space, but it’s all part of the practice. It all works together. Yeah.

(KAC): Do you find that writing about a character who is connected to others is therapeutic because it reminds you of what that felt like? Is this kind of like, wish-fulfillment for us? We wish we could be out of the house, but COVID. We want to do more, but medical conditions keep us isolated.

(CL): Yeah. Yeah. No, it's 100% wish-fulfillment. I mean, I, I think that is why I ended up doing this.

I have a lot of reasons. I wanted to represent my community, and all that stuff, but I wanted to write urban fantasy because I started reading Urban Fantasy in 2013. A friend introduced me to it, but I started, I really got into it because it's this incredible wish-fulfillment at a time when I'm becoming physically incapable of, you know, anything at all.

And there are these people, going out there getting bitten by werewolves, and getting sucked on by vampires, and becoming superheroes, you know. All of their hurts healed, suddenly they're stronger than everybody. They're part of a pack, or a seed, or a coven or whatever. It's a total wish-fulfillment for somebody with a chronic illness or disability that keeps them away from the world.

Part of the wish-fulfillment is, I'm an immortal supernatural being, who’s incredibly powerful, and who could heal myself instantly. And what I choose to do with my immortality and my supernatural incredibleness is to go back to doing what I was doing because I loved it, you know.

(KAC): Claire, you and I were on a panel about Disability Justice a while back. I feel like a lot of people don't understand the difference. Like, why do we need disability justice when we already have disability rights activism?

(CL): Ok. Disability justice is a framework for understanding disability activism, for understanding Disability in the first place, but also understanding how Disability fits into the mainstream of society.

The ten principles of disability justice make it clear that it's very intersectional. It centers the most affected, which means the most marginalized. The folks who are in leadership and disability justice circuits tend to be both BIPOC and queer. So the disability justice spaces are very BIPOC friendly, very queer friendly.

(KAC): Yeah, they're intersectional and they are intentionally diverse.

(CL): Intersectional, anti-capitalist. It's a radical framework. Let's just be straightforward about that.

It's anti-capitalist because, and I want to emphasize this with people who aren't familiar with it, the protestant capitalist notion of human value is what rules our lives right now. And that notion is one of utilitarianism, your value is in your utility. It's in your productivity, it's in your labor. There's no inherent human value in humans.

That's what allows capital punishment. If a person's value is in what they produce, and if what a person produced is, you know, murder and mayhem, then they're of no value. Their life is of no value. There's no inherent value to them. Yeah.

So, disability justice is pushing back against that notion that we can evaluate lives at all, much less that we can evaluate lives within a capitalist framework of a body's labor and productivity being the essence of its value or a body's monetary value being the essence of its value.

(KAC): What about a writer's value being how much writing they got done? So many of us hang our identities on writing. I'm a writer. Tortured, because we haven't written anything lately or we didn't finish it or we haven't written enough or we don't write every day or whatever the thing is that we're obsessed about, right?

(CL):  Here's the thing, and this is what I tell everyone—this is problematic in various ways. But I believe this: a writer is somebody who writes. A writer is somebody who writes, that's it. A writer is not somebody who has written. The importance of the name writer is in the present, in the practice, not the product. Now, this is problematic for disabled people because you can't always write. But I want people to recognize that thinking about writing, thinking about your projects, thinking about writing itself, reading about writing, processing your process—a lot of those things are part of writing. When you can't write, you are still writing if you're processing your work in your mind somehow. But it is true, if you're not doing any of those things, you're not working on things at any level, you're not writing.

It's really more a question of what, what do you need to value yourself? If writers need something finished and ready to publish, or something published, to value themselves as writers, there's a reason for that, you know, and it's not just about capitalism, it's not just about product. It is also about the fact that writing is communication. To write is to communicate things to each other, communicate stories, communicate ideas to each other. And if you haven't finished the piece of writing, if the writing is unfinished because it hasn't been communicated to somebody, if writing is not out there for people, then the communication has to be finished.

So, while there's that problematic, product-value issue in there, which absolutely plays in, you know, draws from and plays into the whole issue, there's no way around it. There's absolutely no way around it. If the only person you're communicating is with yourself, that's worthwhile. But writing really takes flight when you're communicating with people, when part of a broader conversation.

(KAC): I need to know the secrets, Claire. Can you tell us all the secrets of how to write good?

(CL): How do we write good?

(KAC): How do we write good? What is your writing process like?

(CL): For one thing, my process changed radically when I got sick. I had to change it completely. So, it used to be, I didn't plan what I was gonna write. I'd get an idea. I'd sit down and just start digging until I found something, and it opened for me. That’s very, very labor and focus intensive. I developed a very good, solid attention span, the ability to sit down and focus intensely on one thing for a long periods of time. And then I got chronic fatigue syndrome, you know, the illness that prevents you from doing. You know, the cruelest possible illness for a writer, and I couldn't do it anymore.

I just hit a wall and I couldn’t write for three or four years. And then I thought, maybe I should try this whole outlining thing. I decided, alright, I'm gonna outline a novel, then I will write the novel. I will write the outline scene by scene, so that if I get a flare up in the middle of something, I can walk away from it for weeks or months and still come back and pick up where I left off, because I've got the schematic.

I'm also gonna write it scene by scene, and not include any scenes that are boring. This is difficult. I mean, obviously, nobody tries to write boring things. One of the things that is difficult is the connective tissue between the scenes that you really wanna write but you have to get your character from, from A to D. So, B and C may not be that interesting to write, but to get to D, you kind of have to write that stuff, the connected tissue stuff. So, you have to slog through scenes and stuff like that, especially if you're pantsing. If you don't have a plan, you don't know where it's going. You have to write through B and C to understand what D even is.

Well, guess what? When you plan everything out in advance, you don't have to write B and C. You don't have to slog through B and C, because you already know where D is. You know where Z is, and you know where P is. So, you can backfill a little bit, to let everybody know what happened between A and D. If you know where you're going, you don't need B and C. So, I said, I'm not going to slog through any scenes that I don't want to write. I'm only gonna write scenes that are fun for me to write. Because I don't think I can make myself write slogging scenes with this illness.

Monkey Around is very cinematic, because I learned outlining from a writing for stage and screen class I took in college. Which I enjoyed very much! So, when I went back to outline, I was thinking of it in terms of scenes, rather than story beats. Because that's how I was trained. I didn't put in very much of the novelistic connective tissue, which you can't see in your mind's eye.

(KAC): What do you mean thinking in terms of scenes?

(CL): See, literally things that you can see, visual scenes, like something that you can see happening in the movie in your head. One of the big dangers of fight scenes or any kind of physically active action scenes is continuity. There's a lot of problems with continuity. If you can't see it, you have somebody pick something up with their right hand. The next thing you know, it’s in their left hand, or they've dropped it, or it's disappeared or whatever. They fall onto their side, or they fall onto their back, and the next thing you know, they're face-down on the ground, and it's like, wait, how did this happen?

(KAC): But you're approaching it visually.

(CL): I approached Monkey Around visually. I launched into writing an outline in the way I have learned writing for a film; and you have to approach writing a film with a screenplay entirely visually.

(KAC): Do you think your experience as a gallerist impacts the way that you're framing these things visually in your mind?

(CL): No, I don't think so. Those are different parts of my mind.

The thing is, that while I can see in things in my head, there are, from what I can tell, from Twitter, from discussions I've had, there are three possibilities.

One, there are people who see stories when they're reading or when they're writing, really vividly, great detail. There are people who see them kind of vaguely, they're occasional vivid things, kind of like Plato’s cave, and that's me. And then there's people who can't see things in the mind at all.

I have to really work hard to see things in that much detail. I figured that because I used to draw and paint when I was younger, but I knew almost, immediately, that I did not want to be a visual artist. Even though I have a knack for rendering things. I struggled with it a lot, and I didn't want to become a visual artist, because I have an eye, but I don't have a visual imagination. So, I can see things. I see them. I could see compositions. My imagination is narrative, and it's aided by the ability to see things. But I have to work really hard to see things. I imagine a scene before I see it.  Then, I make the effort to see the scene after I've imagined it so that I can make the scene better. But I don't see the scene as I’m imagining it, I don't see it very clearly.

(KAC): Got you. I'm thinking I need to focus more on learning how to break things down scene by scene like that. Also, because I really struggle with my chapters getting too long.

(CL): My chapters still get too long. I write way too long.

(KAC): Yeah.

(CL): Well, I’ll have a chapter where the scene is like, five thousand words long. It just goes on and on.

(KAC): I have a very similar issue. So, what's your secret to editing? What's the methodology?

(CL): I am really good at what I call compression editing, which is just taking paragraphs, passages that are porous, and I press all of the air out of them like a sponge. I mean, you literally have to find the pores in it. You have to go through it, word by word, line by line and I do a compression edit and every project, every project, every short story, every novel, everything you do a compression edit.

(KAC): What do, how do you know what a pore looks like? And what's part of the air?

(CL): Right. I'm lucky because a number of work experiences in life enabled me to do this. Straight out of college, I was an editorial assistant at the small press. Another one was working as an editor for Hyphen magazine, and also writing for other magazines where you have a word limit.

So, you write something, you put everything down that you want to put down, and you've got a 3000-word article for an article space [of] 1000 words.

(KAC): Yeah.

(CL): So, you have to tell the same story, telling 3000 words in 1000. You have to go through it, and you just ruthlessly cut things out. You're still trying to convey the same complete story, less information, but the same story.

(KAC): Yeah.

(CL): So, there are some paragraphs which are extraneous; mostly it's going through and noticing. Over-writers like me and probably like you, repeat themselves in various ways.

(KAC): Yeah, sometimes in the same sentence. Just to make sure that you're understood: so, you cut out all the ways that you repeat yourself. I didn't need two sentences to say this, it says the same thing. A lot of people don't know how to do this. You just have to push yourself to learn how to do it. You just go through it, and you cut everything down, make it shorter. Most of what we say can be said much shorter.

(KAC): Yeah,

(CL): Thoreau said, “not that the story needs be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.”

It takes a lot of work because we think as we talk, we think as we write, and it doesn't always come out in the most compressed manner. You'll spew an idea, and then another idea, and then another idea, and then you realize all the ideas can be compacted into one anyway. So yeah, compression edit. You go through it, word by word or line by line. I'm gonna take out 5000 words, or I'm gonna go through this and I'm gonna take out 10,000 words. You know, it's like …

(KAC):  Readers, Claire is making a squishing motion like she's compressing a sponge. And the sound effect is the sound of a sponge getting squished. It's very evocative.

(CL): You know, I've been recently teaching this in my classes. I’ll give people a writing exercise and give them 15 minutes to write, put their pen down in the paper or their fingers down on the keyboard and don't lift them up, then I’ll call time. Just to make sure they have a lot of material.

Then, I'll have them count their words, and rewrite it so that they halve the word count. And then, have them read it, then rewrite it again to halve the word count. Have them read it, halve the word count again. Then, I'll tell them to double the word count. Three times.

So, down to like two or three sentences, doubling the word count back. Once they've gone through that three times: ok, this is down to the absolute essence of what you were writing. Then, it's like, oh shit, what's important? I cut all of this stuff out because it was extraneous; what, of all of the stuff I cut out, is important to put back in? Once you get into the swing of it, you know, it isn't that hard, but it's hard to learn, because everything that comes out of your brain is gold.

(KAC): It definitely feels that way in a first draft, or at least, in a good first draft for me. Like everything I just said is brilliant and I can't bear to cut a single syllable. But what I've had to do is, instead of saying, I'm gonna cut this to ribbons, what do I need to cut? I’m saying, what are the bare bones? If I could only keep 10 sentences, what would they be? OK? Now, if I can only keep this many words, what would they be? And when I've got that, then I can build back up, out to the word count, choosing the pieces I'm gonna put back in. I’m like, trying to trick myself into not noticing that I'm cutting beautiful words, you know.

(CL): Oh, yeah. I took kill all your darlings to heart a long time ago. The moment I notice that I love a passage I’ve written, I immediately cut it.

(KAC): Oh, really?

(CL): Oh, yeah.

(KAC): How do you survive?

(CL): I rewrite it. So, if I see this beautiful passage, and I think, oh, that's so gorgeous—immediately rewrite it. So that all the poetry is gone. Get rid of it. Yeah. Yeah. If, plot-wise, it's essential, then I rewrite it. If it’s plot-wise, not essential, I just cut it.

(KAC): Well, it's effective, because this book is amazing.

(CL): Thank you.

(KAC): So, then, at the end, when you've written it, you can go back, and you can put in a little bit of that.

(CL): Put it back in. Yeah, you can always put it back in. That's why I save everything I cut.

(KAC): Yeah.

(CL): And you know what? I've never gone back and kept it in.

(KAC): I often do this thing where I cut because I'm just, I'm too OCD today. I'm gonna describe this leaf for 25 pages and I can't do that. So, I'll write the scene and I'll put in parentheses (beat of beautiful description) and move on. Then, I don't let myself come back and do it until I've got the structure complete, because the problem is that my overwriting throws off the pacing.

(CL): Yeah.

(KAC): If I can land the pacing and the structure first, then I know, OK, there are ten places in this chapter where I'm allowed to put in some beautiful language.

(CL): Actually, that’s completely the opposite for me. I worry about the beats after I've written. I have to get everything onto the page first. I only put something beautiful and poetic down when it occurs to me in the moment.

Also, sometimes, I’ll be like, wow, this is really, really plain language. Let’s spruce it up a bit, I'll sit there and think, what kind of metaphor can I put here? Sometimes I'll do that. But generally, the overwriting happens in the moment when I'm generating, and then, and then afterwards I'll be like, OK, where are the story beats? What can I cut out to get at the story beat? Where is it, you know?

(KAC): Yeah, yeah.

(CL): Where is it buried under all this fat; you know? Yeah.

(KAC): Are you doing any of this longhand? What tool are you using?

(CL): I don't write longhand anymore because I started getting trigger fingers. I now have carpal tunnel, but I started getting trigger fingers in my forties.

(KAC): What are trigger fingers, exactly?

(CL): Trigger fingers. It’s a little bit similar to carpal tunnel. There's a, there's a ligament or tendon in your fingers. It goes through a little tunnel here.

(KAC): Claire is pointing to the base of her fingers, readers.

(CL):  Yeah. Right down here, the pads at the base of your finger. The ligament can thicken. So, when you bend your finger down like this, it pulls through the tunnel and then when you try to straighten your finger, it gets stuck behind the thickened part, stuck behind the tunnel.

(KAC): It limits your mobility?

(CL): Yeah. Yeah. Your finger will get stuck, and then to get it back out, you have to, like, jerk it up, and it hurts. They're better now. But I had trigger fingers in these four, for about two, three years.

(KAC): What tool are you using now?

(CL): Just my computer. I still carry a notebook around with me, but I never use it.

(KAC):  Is it an ergonomic keyboard? A laptop? (Claire holds up keyboard) Oh, that is an ergonomic keyboard.

(CL): Ergonomic keyboard, which I put in my lap. I have a laptop up on a stand, and I have a monitor over here, also up on a stand. Two monitors up on stands. In the bay area, there are tech startups always going out of business. You could always get an Aeron chair for $200. So, I have an Aeron chair.

(KAC): Oh, very fancy. So, you write at your desk in your office in your house?

(CL):  Yes.

(KAC): What about on your phone? Do you ever write on your phone?

(CL): I will take notes on my phone when I think of an idea when I'm out and about. That's what I used to write in my notebook, but I don't do that anymore. I will talk to my phone.

(KAC): Voice dictation?

(CL): Voice to text, into my notes app. I've tried doing voice notes, and I don't like the transcription. The transcription is just full of ums and ahs, and it’s a literal transcription. So, it's not very useful. You need so much time cleaning it up. So, I just do voice to text, mostly if I go and work in cafes sometimes.

(KAC): Google Notes? Is that the app that you're using?

(CL): No, it's the Apple app. I have an iPhone. It's the Notes app.

(KAC): Do you have any other adaptive devices that you use when you're writing or accommodations that you use?

(CL):  No, I've tried because I'm kind of working on a new thing. It’s a secondary world fantasy, and it requires a lot, a lot of world building. So, I'm constantly getting the world building ideas. I started this whole thing out on voice memosum on my Apple iPhone and transcribing it and transferring it into text was such incredible hassle, I just never did it again. Yeah. So, I only type, that's all I do. And to be perfectly honest if I'm too tired to type, I'm too tired to think.

If I have the brain energy to think, then I have the brain energy to sit, sit up and type.

(KAC): So, you don't ever write from bed?

(CL): No.

(KAC): No. So, what about writers who have similar disabilities to yours? Do you have any specific trick for writers with those disabilities to get their writing done?

(CL): I strongly recommend the outline. I strongly recommend you take a class or get a book on how to outline, how to plan your writing, because the biggest challenge for me was keeping everything in my head. With pantsing, you have to keep everything in your head because it's not all planned out. So, you have half-formed ideas, and you have to keep them in your head from one day to the next. They're half formed, they're not writeable yet. You have to keep the whole thing in your head because you don't have a schematic for the whole thing.

I'm using Plotter for my new secondary world fantasy. It's an app that does actually interact with Scrivener. I use Scrivener as well. Plotter gives you an actual physical outline where you can do things chapter by chapter or scene by scene, depending on how you want to do it. It also gives you a number of schematics from different schools of thought on how to plot out the novel.

(KAC): The basic plot skeletons, from all these theories of writing.

(CL): Yeah. Yeah, which is really great. They're all there. So, they will plot it all out for you, they'll tell you what goes into each chapter, then you just use that as a crutch to plot out your entire thing. They also have really great notes. There's a timeline, there's an outline, there's notes, there's characters, there's places, and there's text. I'm using the characters and I'm using the notes really extensively right now for world building.

I recommend people with my illness to spend a little bit of your precious spoons learning Scrivener, and then learning Plotter. If you are the type of person who thinks linearly, Plotter is good. If you're the type of person who does mind maps, you could try Scapple.

(KAC): What about when you have an interruption? Do you have a ritual to get back into the flow?

(CL): I don't. I mean, I have my daily ritual, to like, sit down and ... (Claire holds up coffee travel mug).

(KAC): “There's coffee in that nebula?”

(CL): Are you a Star Trek fan?

(KAC): Yes!

(CL): OK. This is from Star Trek: Voyager. It's a quote from Janeway. When they were running out of fuel, they found a nebula that had that dilithium in it. And she said, “there's coffee in that Nebula.” OK. So, I've got my big thing, I make my pour-over coffee, and I get my little—

(KAC): Is that a shot glass?

(CL): A little shot glass. I get a little shot glass full of dark chocolate covered almonds, and I stay here with my coffee and my dark chocolate covered almonds, and I start working. I don't need anything more than that, if I have the spoons. Some days it takes me longer. Some days it takes me shorter. Usually I'll sit, and I'll read my emails, and I'll check Facebook and Twitter I'll read, Reddit for a while. And then I'll start working. When I'm ready to work, I sit down and just start working.

(KAC): Readers, the magical coffee mug has Janeway’s red Captain's outfit from Voyager and it says, “there's coffee in that nebula.” Now I've got to go find that episode and re-watch it.

(CL): Yes. It's in the first season. I got this from an Etsy store called Adopt a Tribble. You can adopt Tribbles from this Etsy store, and you can also get magical coffee mugs. This one is amazing because, um, I don't know what it is about this thing, but it keeps your coffee hot for hours.

(KAC): Everybody needs an excellent beverage container.

(CL): I've also got a Starfleet Academy water bottle.

(KAC): What practical writing advice have you found the most useful?

(CL): Oh my God. I have so much practical writing advice. There's so much. What did you have trouble [with]?

(KAC): Write every day. A real writer writes every day. But for me, the key has been flexibility. I don't know, from day to day, what my symptoms are gonna be. What my impairments are gonna be. How many spoons I'm gonna have, how much pain I'm gonna be in. I don't know how articulate I'm gonna be that day. If I have slurred speech and aphasia, that is just not a great day to write lyrical prose. But it might be a great day to nail down the beats of a scene or to outline the structure, right? So, the advice that's worth the most for me is to be really flexible about using different methodologies on different days to fit the accommodation needs that I have on that day.

(CL): Well, when people say writing every day, I think some people take it too literally. I think there's a lot of misunderstanding about writing every day. People use the term dailyness to mean consistency. Write Consistently. Time-wise, write consistently. You build a practice. Because remember what I said earlier, a writer is someone who writes. It's about being in the present. Writing has to be a present practice for you. That's all it means.

I don't tell my students anymore that you have to write every day. I tell my students writing has to be a present practice for you. If you have a consistent present practice of writing, everything that you do in life tends to work into the writing, and the writing tends to work into everything that you do in life. The goal is to have your life be a practice and your writing be part of that practice.

(KAC): Yeah. Yeah.

(CL): Yeah.

(KAC): And you don't mean just sitting down to draft a story, you mean, like, all of your writing, right?

(CL): Everything. Story ideas, looking around, refreshing your mind's eye or your mind's mind. refreshing your mind by going outside. Self-care so that you don't get carpal tunnel. Removing yourself from your usual writing spot or writing somewhere different to get a new perspective. Input, getting enough input from the world, so that you have material to work with, all of these things. If you have enough time, and enough energy to write, [but] you're finding yourself stymied, you're not getting enough input. That’s a particular problem for people like us, who are housebound a lot of the time. And for the world right now, because of the pandemic and people being housebound and isolated from each other. You have to have, uh, a vivid, interesting life, you have to live all the parts of your life, you can't output without input. Garbage in, garbage out, you know.

(KAC): Yeah, yeah.

(CL): So, yeah, your, your writing life has to be a life. You have to have a full life practice to be able to. write. Yeah.

(KAC): This is the antithesis of “I must go into an isolated cabin by a lake and write alone for a year as a hermit while my mother makes me lunch and does my laundry.”

(CL): That's what I was about to say! Thoreau’s mother made him lunch, and brought him laundry. He was not isolated. Lunch and yeah, he was on a friend's property!

And anyway, while there is a place for retreats, that place, for everybody, may be different. For me, I can't listen to music when I'm writing, because I need to hear the rhythmic language. I can go out to a cafe and have a lot of ambient noise around me that I need to block out. That helps me a lot. When I'm in the generating phase, it helps me a lot to be out somewhere where I have to block stuff out, for some reason. Sometimes it helps me be more creative, but I also end up overwriting a lot because I can't really hear myself talk.

When I'm doing a compression edit, I have to be in a quiet room. I have to hear the language. I have to hear the rhythm of the language when I'm doing certain types of revision, not story revision, but like, language revision.

I have to be in a quiet room by myself. And there are times when I'm doing story revisions, I have to be not in a quiet room, so that I can hear things, focus on the whole.

(KAC): Yeah.

(CL): Yeah. So, I think a lot of the stereotypes about writers are people just misunderstanding.

(KAC): Or insisting that this is a universal thing whereas you're describing different parts in the writing process, and you need different things, you need different environments.?

(CL): Yeah.

(KAC): Some people who write beautiful prose listen to music the whole time they're doing it. What I'm always telling people is like, um, I love every part of the writing process. I love it. Absolutely love it. There are times when parts of it are a slog, but it's not because I hate that part of it. I love that part of it. But there are times when that part is a slog. I think you have to push through anyway, but I love every part of the writing and if I didn't, I wouldn't do it. I cannot spend this much time doing something I hate.

(CL): Yeah. I thought for a long time that nobody could do something that they hated. I have a friend who hates the process of writing. She's a writer, she's a professional writer. She hates the process of writing and I've talked to her about it. I'm like, but you can't possibly, like, you hate it sometimes. But, and she's like, you know, I always hate it. I hate it. I hate every part of it. I hate it. I hate it. I'm like, why do you do it then?

(KAC): Yeah.

(CL): And she said, because I love having written, I love having the product.

(KAC): Yeah.

(CL): Everybody is different. For me, being present in the process is a really important part of my daily life. And, and it's possible because I love the process. I really do. I love it. The more that I do it, the better I get at it, the more I love it. Being in that moment, being in the zone, feels like being connected to some sort of essence of life, some sort of … like being plugged directly into energy, into electricity, you know?

(KAC): Yeah.

(CL): It makes me feel alive and I love it. Some people hate it. Some people fucking hate it. I don't get that. But yeah, everything is different for everybody. It's different for absolutely everybody. There are no generalizations, but we talk about process because sometimes we'll hear a bit of process advice that works for us.

(KAC): Yeah.

(CL): And you know, most of the time, most of the process advice I hear doesn't work for me, like morning pages, I fucking hate morning pages. Oh, I hate morning pages. I took a class where she tried to make us do for three weeks. And I said I'm never doing this again. Never.

(KAC):  Wait. Mourning pages?

(CL): This is Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, which a lot of people swear by. Morning pages is a part of the process where you keep a journal next to your bag. First thing in the morning, you write a certain number of pages, and basically, what you're doing is writing all the garbage out of your head. Stuff that you write in your morning pages, you're not supposed to keep, you're not supposed to read it over, supposed to use it. You're writing all the garbage out of your head so that you can go out into your day, into your creative process. I hated it. I hated doing that. I did not feel clear afterwards. Writing for me is manifesting. When I write something down, I'm taking something that's nebulous in my mind and I'm turning it real.

(KAC): Yeah.

(CL): I don't need to spend five pages writing it all out. But some people do, and there's nothing wrong with that.

(KAC): Wait, do they write the pages before they brush their teeth though? So, do they have morning breath the whole time that they're writing?

(CL): I think they're, well, (Laughs) I think they have morning breath while they’re writing their pages,

(KAC): Do they pee first?

(CL) (Laughing): I don't know.

(KAC): I need the details here. Like, are you still sweaty from sleeping or do you maybe rinse off a little? Is everything you write in the morning pages about sweaty cranky, smelly characters? Who've really got to pee?

(CL): You’re not doing your creative stuff. You're writing garbage, like whatever is going on in your brain. Like you wake up and you're like, oh shit, I've gotta, I've gotta take out the garbage. I forgot to take out the garbage. Oh my God. I forgot to clean a cat litter, oh my God. Today is gonna be the worst day.

(KAC): Oh, Gotcha.

(CL): You're getting all the garbage out of your head. That doesn't work for me.

(KAC): There's another similar methodology or framework, where you're imagining a pump and you have to pump it a few times to get the brown water out of it, before the water runs clear.

(CL): Yeah.

(KAC): I have one more specific writing question. What about our readers who are feeling discouraged right now? They feel like maybe they've lost their gift. Things have changed, their disability has changed, and they're trying to find their way back into writing again, or maybe just to feel good about writing again. Do you have any encouragement for them?

(CL): It's a different thing for everybody. What the discouragement is, is a different thing. One way to handle it is just do the opposite of what we do. Even if it doesn't get you running again, it'll get you out of your head space for a second, change things up. Number one, change things up.

Number two, reconnect with people, reconnect with your community. Reconnect with the source, what makes you feel. Reconnect with the things that make you feel you’re part of the world, in whatever way you can. Reconnect with the people and the communities that make you feel the most you. And don't just do it once. Start making the practice of it.

(KAC): Yeah. That doesn't sound like advice for someone who has lost their gift. That sounds like advice for someone who has needs that have been neglected for too long or not met for too long.

(CL): Well, that's how you lose your gift.

(KAC): If you can take care of yourself, then you'll find your way back into doing the things you love again.

(CL): Yeah. I don't believe in writer’s block. I don't think writer's block is a thing. I think writers are people who get depressed, who, who have problems, who have issues. You have to figure out what is the source of your depression, what is the source of your issue? And deal with that. I don't think it's particular to writing. I think it's particular to humanity, and if you're not writing, it's because, most likely, there's some depression, there's something along those lines going on. You gotta figure it out. Yeah.

(KAC): Yeah. That's all really good. Is there anything else that you would like to share with anyone reading this interview?

(CL):  So, the Monkey Around series is probably not gonna be continued to be published, so I'm probably not gonna continue to write it, but I did have grand plans for a supernatural disability and a human disability to appear in the series. The new secondary world fantasy has a disabled protagonist.

(KAC): So, we can look forward to that in the future!

(CL): Hopefully!

(KAC): Well, readers, please check out Claire's work! You can find Monkey Around wherever fine books are sold. And remember, that's written under Claire's pen name, which is Jadie Jang. Her short story collection, Slightly Behind and to the Left, that's written as Claire Light. If you want to find out more about Claire and her work, you can go to Claire's website.

Disabled and Neurodiverse readers, we would love to hear your thoughts. What writing advice do you have for other Disabled writers like you? Please join the conversation on social media with #WritingWhileDisabled and #StrangeHorizons.

Claire! Thank you so much for sitting down with me today. I really appreciate it.

(CL): Thank you for having me.



Kristy is a disabled intersex author who writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. She recently finished an MFA in fiction from Brigham Young University, but has since returned to the wild to rove Colorado as a feral academic, along with her husband, son, and a clutter of cats. You can read Kristy's short story “Elder Daughter” in Cicada Magazine. Her essay “Disabled at the Intersection” appears in WisCon Chronicles (Vol 12): Boundaries & Bridges from Aqueduct Press. Kristy's interviews are here at Strange Horizons, including the “Writing While Disabled” series. You can find more of her work at her website, kristyannecox.com.
Claire Light is a Bay Area writer, cultural worker, and activist. She has worked since 1997 in nonprofit administration, particularly in arts, social justice, and disability justice, and was a cofounder of Hyphen magazine. A short collection of her stories, SLIGHTLY BEHIND AND TO THE LEFT, was published by Aqueduct Press in 2009. Her fantasy novel MONKEY AROUND, written under the pen name Jadie Jang, was published by Solaris in 2021. You can find out more at clairelight.org or @seelight on Twitter.
Current Issue
10 Jun 2024

In summer, the crack on the windowpane would align perfectly with the horizon, right around 2 p.m.
airstrikes littering the litanies of my existence
I turn to where they are not, / and I nod to them, and they to me.
Issue 9 Jun 2024
Wildlife and Rainforests Inside My Father 
Phonetics of Draconic Languages 
A Tour of the Blue Palace 
A Tale of Moths and Home (of bones and breathing) (of extrinsic restrictive lung disease) 
By Salt, By Sea, By Light of Stars 
Friday: Utopia Beyond Capitalism in Contemporary Literature: A Commons Poetics by Raphael Kabo 
Issue 3 Jun 2024
Issue 27 May 2024
Issue 20 May 2024
Issue 13 May 2024
Issue 6 May 2024
Issue 29 Apr 2024
Issue 15 Apr 2024
By: Ana Hurtado
Art by: delila
Issue 8 Apr 2024
Issue 1 Apr 2024
Load More