Posts Tagged ‘autism’

My cousin has been in town for an internship, so I invited him to see this with me. We both had heard that it wasn’t good or it wasn’t going to do good, but I think we both went in with open minds. And after a billion previews, ranging from cute family films to all-out R-rated horror films (where’s the consistency these days?), the lights went down.

That was very good. I’m not kidding, I liked it a lot. That was better than expected.

The Predator takes place around thirty years after the events of the 1987 movie. A Predator ship crash lands on Earth after getting away from another Predator ship. A soldier nearby manages to get his hands on some Predator tech and, fearing being silenced by the military, sends it to a PO Box…only for it to end up in the hands of his autistic son. This, and the arrival of the other Predator ship, which contains a much more powerful breed of Predator than ever seen before, leads to a domino effect of events culminating in one insane battle.

So this film actually has a lot going for it. Rather than being a simple sci-fi stalker/slasher film like the original (and let’s face it, everyone’s comparing it to the original), The Predator has a much more developed story that delves both into its characters as well as a bit more into the Predators themselves (because outside of canon-questionable comic books, novels, and video games, what exactly do we have to go on?). And it’s very well-written. There was never a moment where I found my mind wandering, whether it be an intense action scene (and there are several of those), scenes where people are talking to explain things or scenes where the cast is being downright funny.

And there”s another thing: this film is funny as heck (and before you get turned off by that, Terminator II was funny at times, and it’s an awesome film). Whether the more eccentric characters, whom I could watch all day get into antics, are being themselves or other characters are poking fun at the nickname “Predator,” this film knows how to put in laughs, as well as where to put in laughs. Yeah, a lot of action films like this might put the humor in all the wrong places, but this film gets it right.

But my favorite part of this film is its representation of autism and an autistic character. Rory MacKenna, the son of the lead soldier played by Jacob Tremblay, is on the spectrum and it weaves itself into the plot in a very intrinsic, surprising and positive way. It reminds me of how the character of Billy in last year’s Power Rangers film (another discounted film that was actually really good) was portrayed, only this was a lot better. I could say more, but that would give too much away, so I’ll hold off. Instead I’ll say, as an individual on the spectrum, it was great to see.

Is there anything bad? Well, it isn’t the most extraordinary film I’ve ever seen. Those who go in expecting it to be as amazing as the original film or as awesome a sequel as Mad Max: Fury Road will be disappointed. However, those who go in expecting to see something like Jurassic World–something that’s not as good as the original but good in its own right and maybe worthy of a few sequels–won’t regret spending money on the tickets.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving The Predator a 4 out of 5. An enjoyable sci-fi action romp with fun characters and great representation of folks on the spectrum. I don’t know if this film will do well (movie audiences can be pretty unpredictable sometimes), but I’d encourage you to suit up and disappear into the story.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll try not to make my next post a review if I can help it. Until next time, pleasant nightmares.

Advertisements

I was hoping I’d be under better health when I talked about this, but unfortunately I’m dealing with a summer cold right now. Forgive me if this post isn’t as eloquent as I wanted it to be, but it had to be written today. Otherwise, I’m not sure I’d write it at all.

So since about December last year, I’ve been dealing with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). What this means is that I get anxious about a lot of things in my life, or sometimes I get anxious about nothing at all. I just feel this awful feeling of dread, like something under my skin is itching my nerves and making me afraid of everything. I have my ideas about what stressors, the event or events in my life that set it off, but these days I’m less concerned about stressors and more about triggers, what makes me anxious now that I have this condition. These days, that’s mainly the writing career: how will Rose be received; can I make it successful; will it be laughed and hated to the point that I can’t write ever again, etc. Those may seem like issues every author worries about, but in this case, it’s less of a small worry and more like an overriding wave, taking up all my thoughts and making it difficult to think or breathe because you’re just considering the many things that could go wrong.

That’s my GAD.*

The good news is, I started treating this almost as soon as I realized what I was dealing with. I moved up my appointment with my psychiatrist, and she prescribed me medication. I’ve come up with strategies to take the bite out of my triggers, and I’ve been talking with a counselor to further help me with that.

And I’m not alone. I recently came out to a bunch of people that I have GAD. Not only did I get an amazing amount of support and love, but I heard from all sorts of people who have the same sort of issues or know someone who does. We commiserated on the struggles, and were glad that we weren’t so alone. This is such a common disease,** much more common than even I thought, and it affects people in a variety of different ways. Knowing that there are so many other people out there dealing with the same thing made me feel better. It seems like that the opposite would be true, but it’s not. We may have anxiety, but we find peace in our shared struggle.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share some strategies I’ve been using to fight my anxiety. If you have this issue, you might find these strategies just as helpful as I do. Maybe even more:

  • Recognize your anxiety for what it is. For whatever reason, people often deny that they have an anxiety issue. I think this might be because of the stigma that still surrounds mental illness. However, the sooner you acknowledge you’re having anxiety, the sooner you can start fighting back. I recognized this for what it was early on, and I’m so much better for recognizing it in the first place.
  • Don’t be afraid of medication. I know a lot of us don’t like putting anything more than Tylenol into our systems, but taking medication can help. My first day taking medication for my anxiety, I felt freer and lighter than I had in weeks. My anxiety could not touch me that day! And if one medication doesn’t work for you, there are many others available. You just have to be open and honest with your doctor, and they’ll help you find the prescription that’s right for you.
  • Talk to a counselor. Sometimes it’s just good to have someone to talk to about what you’re worried about. I saw a counselor, and they’ve been helping me find more ways to deal with my anxiety. And honestly, just spending forty minutes in that office and talking to someone really helped me out with my fears and made them harmless again. I’m really glad I decided to talk to someone.
  • Logic your anxieties to death. This is something I started doing the moment I realized I had anxiety. Every time I had a fear come up, I would use logic to render it harmless. I would look at all the ways this anxiety made no sense, and argue these points to myself until I felt better. It really works, and I’ve managed to kill most of my anxieties with this.
  • Keep an anxiety notebook. This is something my counselor recommended to me. He said that by keeping a journal and writing down your anxieties, your brain is somehow able to process them and render them mute. I’ve done something similar when it comes to writer’s block, so I know this variation on the theme can work. I even recently bought a notebook to write in the next time I’m feeling anxious. And although I hate being anxious, I’m looking forward to seeing the results.
  • “Follow your happiness.” This is something I came up with. I have no idea why it works, but telling myself over and over, “Find your happiness,” and playing upbeat music either in my head or on my iPod really blocks out the negative thoughts. I’m really partial to “All Night Long” by Lionel Richie (my theory is that we’re all fans of his, whether we know it or not).
  • Hypnosis, meditation, and ASMR. I know what you’re thinking, but these really do help. I’ve done hypnosis, meditation, and ASMR (see this video for a fuller explanation of what that is) for years, and they’ve always helped to relax me. If you open yourself to them, they may just help you deal with these issues.

While I may never be totally rid of my GAD (for some people, these things come and go), the important thing is that I recognize what it is, and that I’m dealing with it in a healthy manner. And if this post helps others recognize their anxiety and deal with it, I feel like I’ve accomplished something good. Because while this disorder is common and can be debilitating, it can also be treated. And if it can be treated, we can make our days a little brighter.

What strategies do you have for dealing with anxiety or GAD?

*So for those of you keeping score at home, I have autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, acid reflux, partial albinism, allergies, and anxiety. One more with an “A” prominent in the name, and I should receive a set of steak knives or a gift card or something!

I’m also farsighted and have back issues. And I have a cold right now. I’m a hot mess!

**And this is a disease, no different than diabetes or a number of other disorders. It’s just a disease affecting our mental state. Anyone who says we just need to learn to chill out or says we’re just imagining it doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Might as well tell someone with crippling arthritis to just move more and ignore the inflammation.

I wasn’t planning on writing another post about this subject, but I got so many updates about the subject, I felt I should chime in. And I would’ve published this post earlier, but I had a family thing to attend, so that took up a bit of time. Well, no time like the present. Let’s talk Cockygate.

Now, for those of you who don’t know, or don’t have time to read my last post on the subject, let me give a bit of background: Faleena Hopkins is a romance author who writes a series of books called the Cocky Brothers series (though apparently it’s gone by several names in the past). Recently she applied for a trademark for the word “cocky,” with somehow got approved by the Patent & Trademark Office. Technically speaking, this only allows her to have control of the word using a particular kind of font on her book covers, but she’s taken this to extreme levels, and has sent cease and desist letters to authors who use “cocky” in the titles of their books, telling them to either change the names of their books, take them off Amazon, or face legal action. The authors targeted are mainly self-published writers who can’t afford a legal battle, and changing a book’s title is hellishly hard (imagine the insanity that might come from trying to change the name of the Harry Potter books, for instance). This puts them in a really difficult position.

As you might expect, when word got out about this, things escalated quickly: authors quickly called out Hopkins on this move, calling it extortion and bullying; the hashtags #cockygate and #ByeFaleena (ha! that’s still funny) started trending on Twitter; the Romance Writers Association asked anyone affected by Hopkins to send proof to them and started consulting with an IP lawyer; and Hopkins, who apparently once said that anyone who uses stock photos after she uses them is copying her (that still boggles my mind), posted a video online trying to defend herself and instead dug herself deeper into a hole.

Among other things. Yeah, this is one screwed up situation. And this has not only people angry at Hopkins, but afraid of the future: if you can trademark any word in a title, it’s possible no one will want to publish stories because they’re afraid they could get sued by a trademark owner for using a common word.

However, people have been fighting this, and keeping the story alive. And as time has gone on, there have been further developments in this case. Here are just a few:

  • A novelist and retired lawyer named Kevin Kneupper has come together with a bunch of other authors/lawyers to try to get the Patent & Trademark office to toss out Hopkins’ trademark using a petition for cancellation, which I applaud them for doing and hope they are successful.
  • The creator of the font Hopkins uses for her books came out and stated that anyone who uses his fonts isn’t allowed to apply for trademarks using his font. So, Hopkins is telling people they’re infringing on her trademark while at the same time breaking the rules of usage for the font she uses. Someone needs to read the fine print before telling someone else to do so.
  • Amazon has stated they won’t kick books off its website that have been targeted by Hopkins while they wait to see how this whole thing unfolds.
  • A company called Rebellion Games tried to get a trademark on the word “Rebellion,” (just the word, as far as I can tell), and Mr. Kneupper apparently convinced them to reconsider (and suddenly I want to interview him for my blog and/or name a character in my next novel after him).
  • Hopkins uploaded a video that’s since been taken down (but this is the Internet, so nothing ever goes away), where she said people were calling her and her fans stupid, and then said that meant they were calling her and her fans autistic. Um, say what? As far as I can find, no one brought up autism being mistaken for stupidity before you did. And as someone who’s on the spectrum, would you kindly leave my community out of this? IT HAS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH WHAT YOU’VE BEEN DOING!!!
  • In the same video, Hopkins also said someone had insinuated that she was part of the KKK (proof please?), and said she would never be a Klansman, as she’s descended from a slave. Again, what does that have to do with you trying to trademark a word? And from what I’ve been hearing, some of the authors that have been targeted by the cease and desist letters are writers of color. And you’re not immune from criticism just because one of your ancestors was a slave. Heck, some of your critics may also be descendants of slaves.
  • Hopkins’s books have apparently slid from the bestseller lists. Apparently there are consequences to doing something like this. Who knew?
  • And most recently, Hopkins’ lawyer has sent Kneupper, along with fellow authors/lawyers Jennifer Watson and Tara Crescent, a letter stating that he’s going to be filing a lawsuit against them and seeking a Temporary Restraining Order against their Petition of Cancellation.

Now, this last one happened on Friday apparently, so with a three-day weekend, I have no idea what might develop before Tuesday, if anything. The legal process for this sort of thing can be frustratingly slow. However, this latest development just goes to show just how far Hopkins will go to try to keep her trademark and the power she feels this has given her. She’s determined to make herself seem like an innovative businesswoman who’s being victimized by a mean gang of authors trying to protect her brand.

Well, let her. She may have some supporters (some, but not many), but the longer this drags on and the more she tries to make herself seem like the victim, the more we’ll see her for the bully she is. And with the movement against what she’s doing growing and gaining allies every day, even if God forbid she does succeed in getting her copyright, she’ll just find herself isolated and hated. And in the end, that’s a victory no one wants.

I would like to applaud everyone who’s come forward about Hopkins targeting them. Your bravery is a true testament to your resiliency and spirit. Remember, if you’ve been targeted, email carol.ritter@rwa.org and share your story. Together, we can protect your hard work from what’s happening.

I’d also like to applaud all the other authors and readers out there who have said they won’t stand for this chicanery, and are fighting it every day, on and offline. And I’d like to give an especially big hand to Kevin Kneupper, Jennifer Watson, Tara Crescent, and the other writers/legal experts lending their talents to this case. Words cannot express what you’re doing to defend authors and fiction writing in general. Thank you for all you’ve been doing.

When further updates come along, I’ll likely put out another post. Until then, keep your eyes peeled for more chicanery, and remember, we do have the power to fight back against this. We just have to be brave enough to use it.

My friend, journalist and all around cool person Caitlin Kelly published a post earlier today on her own blog, Broadside (definitely check it out, it’s some of the most intelligent and thought provoking blogging on WordPress). In it, she took 20 questions and answered them. Kind of like the game, only not like the game. Anyway, I enjoyed reading her post and thought it’d be fun to try myself, so I decided to write my own post using the same questions and my own answers. Hopefully some of you will feel the same and answer some questions of your own, either in the comments or on your own blogs (either way, I’d love to read your answers).

So without further ado, let’s begin!

What are some of your passions, hobbies and interests?

Well, most of that is out there already. Obviously, I love horror fiction, both reading and writing it. I also love horror art and culture, stuff my blog often touches on. I love Japanese culture, particularly manga and anime. I love learning new things, especially from books or audio books. I love TV and movies, 80’s music and ASMR (Google it, I’m not going into it here). And I love going to the theater when I can, particularly for ballet. And I like collecting dolls and figurines.

What were you known for in school?

Scaring the heck out of people, writing, and being a total and utter goofball. I used to make terrible jokes and puns, sing Lady Gaga in the hallways, sneak up on people to scare them, and write incessantly during my free time. It was a nutty time.

Scariest moment?

It’s not easy to scare me, but I do have one experience. I thought that I’d lost the flash drive containing all my stories on it, and nearly had a panic attack. Thankfully I found it, but that taught me a lesson. I back up my stories once a month now. Really calms my nerves.

Best job?

Well, I’ve only had a few in my young life (I turn 25 very soon, that’s how young), but if I’m going to pick just one, I guess I’ll have to go with the one I have now, working an HR job for a supply organization. Sure,, my high school and college jobs let me do my homework while I worked, being a resident manager put a roof over my head, and interning in Germany was just lovely. But unlike those jobs, I’m now a full employee with good pay and benefits. Sure, sometimes it’s exhausting or frustrating, but I get to help people with disability in the organization, and I’m able to live a comfortable life without having to worry too much about bills or anything like that. You have to love that.

Stuffed animals or dolls or something else?

Dolls and figurines. I’ve got a huge collection of them, in a variety of types, and it just keeps growing (see here and here for the blog posts about them). I also have a small collection of scary masks (a post for another day), and more books than I know what to do with. They’re fun to have.

Do you have any siblings? Are you close to them emotionally?

That was two questions.

But I have four younger sisters, three biological and one step-sister. I love them, but I think we get along better when we’re able to have our own space and not constantly rubbing up against each other.

Do you like the outdoors, or do you only go out when you have to?

Yeah, I’m not a huge fan of the outdoors. I only really have to go out when I have to go somewhere. Beyond that, I definitely prefer the indoors. In fact, if I were a cat, I’d be an indoor cat. Meow!

Are you married or partnered? If not, do you enjoy being single?

That was also two questions.

I am single, and I’m happy being that way. I’m not really that big into romance personally, so I’m happy to be on my own and have my own space. Maybe someday that will change, but right now, I wouldn’t change that for the world.

What’s your nickname?

Rami is my nickname. Didn’t you know?

What would we typically find in your fridge?

Food. What were you expecting? The remains of my victims?

Do you enjoy entertaining friends and family?

At my place? Sure! When it’s prearranged, of course. I don’t like people dropping by unannounced too much.

Are you outgoing and highly social, or do you prefer to be on your own?

Both, actually. I love to go out and be friends, but at the same time, I need my alone time to unwind, or I just go crazy.

Most beautiful place you’ve visited?

Oh, that’s a tough one. Honestly, there are a lot of beautiful places I’ve had the pleasure to go. Paris is lovely, even if it’s a little too opulent. Germany has some very beautiful hills and towns and cities. I really enjoyed visiting Boston, and the Massachusetts coastline in Salem and Fall River are lovely. But if I have to pick, I’m going to go with the Golan Heights in Israel. Beautiful mountains and hills and cities. One day, I’d like to go back and see them again.

Secret hope?

It wouldn’t be secret if I told you. You’ll just have to guess.

Have you achieved the goals you set for yourself when you were younger/went to college?

I’ve achieved some of them, certainly.

What was it/what were they?

I’ve got a stable income, I write nearly every day, and I’ve got a book on the way, with the opportunity to write several more in the future. Hopefully they’ll be well-received and a lot of people will read them. That would make me extremely happy if that happened.

If not, are you OK with that?

N/A

Do you struggle with/manage a chronic medical condition?

Autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, acid reflux, and a few others. I’m a mess! Still, I take care of myself and don’t use any of them as an excuse or a reason not to live my life. I’ve learned to turn my disadvantages into advantages. In the end, that’s all that really counts.

Don’t let your health ruin your life. Take control, and let yourself be the judge of what you can or can’t do. Don’t let your medical conditions do that for you.

Are you religious or do you follow a spiritual path/faith?

I’m Jewish. I’m more spiritual than religious, but I keep kosher and follow major observances (Shabbat Shalom, by the way). It gives me a guiding path, though I don’t base all my beliefs and morals around the Torah.

What makes you laugh loudest and the most often?

Probably something stupid on YouTube or on TV. Either that, or just something that happens in the moment that I find extremely hilarious.

 

What are your answers to these questions?

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I look forward to reading your answers soon (especially if your names happen to be Kat Impossible, Joleene Naylor, or Ruth Ann Nordin). Until next time, pleasant nightmares and have a great Memorial Day weekend.

So that lovely and occasionally terrifying thing known as the Internet has informed me that April is Autism Awareness Month, and as someone who is on the spectrum, I felt I should contribute something.

The only question is, what should I contribute? I haven’t had any experiences like when I was asked to give advice on how to help someone’s autistic relative; I haven’t been prompted to record a video or anything like the one below, detailing a specific issue involving disability (by the way, that video recently passed the one-year anniversary of when it was uploaded, and also passed five-hundred views soon afterwards. I find that pretty cool); I haven’t had any revelations about my relationship with my autism; and no one’s asked me point-blank if I’m autistic recently. What’s there to talk about? What can I say that not only needs to be said, but I feel strongly speaking my mind about?

 

Well, I guess one subject I can broach is how autism affects adults, especially in terms of job searching and job security.

A lot of people associate autism with children. When they associate it with adults, I think the popular image is low-functioning adults who are being taken care of by their parents or at facilities. And while there is a segment of the adult autistic population that do need that sort of care, the popular image ignores the segment of the population who don’t require full-time care from facilities or parents, those who can and seek to live independently. And they face their own unique challenges and issues.

Now, I”m just going off my own experience and the experiences of others who have or are related to people with ASD, but the fact that we’re either experiencing or hearing about this says something.

I’ve mentioned before how, between October 2015 and about March or April 2016, I was on the worst job search I’ve ever experienced. Every day I would send out resumes and applications, only to either not hear anything back or to be passed over after being interviewed. One reason this may have happened is because I was open to my potential employers about the fact that I have ASD, and that it sometimes made social situations awkward. I have no proof, but it’s possible that knowing my diagnosis may have scared them off. People have this association with people with disabilities in general that we’re unable to do anything. And even if we’re skilled at something (sciences, writing, mathematics, painting, music, whatever), our needs are too much for them to handle as employers.

The reality, I assure you, is much different. At work, part of my job is being a disability advocate, and I can attest that people with disabilities not only do things, they do them very well. Not only that, but employers who treat disabled employees well find that not only are these employees hard-working and loyal, but several times less likely to turn over than the general population. Not only that, but accommodations for their disability usually aren’t burdensome: a quiet or obstacle-free workspace, or flexible schedules, or leave for medical appointments. And when it does cost money for accommodations, it’s usually not expensive. Seriously, I help handle accommodations at work. I rarely see the cost get anywhere near five-hundred dollars.  My own accommodations cost the organization nothing: I just listen to my iPod or audio books while I work (I pay for any new music or audio books) and I have a chair designed to ease my back pain (we already had the chair to begin with, so it didn’t cost any money to give it to me).

But still, a lot of employers are wary of employing the disabled, especially folks with ASD. They have this idea of a Rain Man-type character, someone who may excel at one very special skill, but needs all sorts of help in every other area of life and can’t do anything but certain tasks. For many autistic adults, this simply isn’t the case. Each of us may present our diagnosis differently, but it doesn’t affect each and every one of us that badly, and we are suited for a variety of tasks.

I’m lucky that I was able to get a job in an office where everyone is kind and gets that I’m not always the savviest person socially, in an organization that emphasizes disability hiring, accommodation, and inclusion. But not many people like me are that lucky. They have trouble finding jobs because employers see their disabilities as a huge barrier. I’ve heard from friends who’ve had this experience, as well as from others. And not just with jobs: I’ve heard from people who have told me that they or their relatives had had trouble finding services that help them cope with their ASD once they reach adulthood or when they’re diagnosed in adulthood. There’s plenty of help for minors, but for adults, it can be a challenge.

So this Autism Awareness Month, I’m writing a post urging people not only to support autism awareness, research, and therapy, but also to rethink how we approach adults with autism (and disabilities in general). The majority of us aren’t helpless individuals. We’re hardworking and want to be part of society. You just have to give us the opportunity, whether that be funding for programs that offer counseling, education, and job training to autistic adults, or actually giving a job to someone with autism. Quite possibly, you’ll be amazed at what you receive in return.

Thank you for reading, and have a good month of April.

Well, looks like I’m not the only one who’s having a dream come true. And I’m very excited about this interview. She’s a rather unique voice I’ve come to know recently.

I first met Rabbi Leiah Moser back in December, when I ran across one of her posts on her blog, Dag Gadol (Hebrew for “big fish”). Her post was about why, as a rabbi, she was writing a fantasy novel. I read through it, and I found that not only did she have some good points, but there was something about this blog and its writer’s voice I found compelling. As I read further, I found out that not only was she a Member of the Tribe, a rabbi, and a writer, but a member of the LGBT community. And here’s me, not just a writer, a Member of the Tribe and of the LGBT community, but the son of two rabbis, one of whom is also LGBT. I think the first line of my first comment on her blog was something like, “An LGBT female rabbi who writes fiction. Where has this blog been my whole blogging life?” Thus started our acquaintanceship.

Recently, Rabbi Moser announced that her YA fantasy novel, Magical Princess Harriet, had been published and was live on Amazon. Me being me, I offered to give her an interview here on my blog. Thus are we here today to here about Rabbi Moser and Magical Princess Harriet. Enjoy!

Rami Ungar: Welcome to my blog, Rabbi Moser. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing.

Rabbi Moser: I think I’ve wanted to write a fantasy novel since I was in the sixth grade, but the road to actually achieving that ambition has been a long and convoluted one. Throughout my teenage years and into adulthood I tried my hand at writing fiction from time to time, but never managed to actually finish anything to my satisfaction, partially I think because I still hadn’t managed to get the whole identity thing nailed down. Trying to write without really knowing who you are is like trying to run on loose sand — the ground keeps shifting beneath you and you never seem to make any progress. After a while I kind of gave up on the dream of being a writer. I tried to find other dreams to pursue, but in a lot of ways I was just drifting.

Then while I was living in Japan I had this really intense religious experience. It’s kind of hard to explain, but the practical upshot was that afterwards I had this absolutely unshakeable conviction that God was real and that I needed to be Jewish. When I got back to the United States I found a synagogue and began attending, and after a while converted to Judaism. Later on, I decided I wanted to deepen my Jewish learning so I could do more work in the Jewish community, and that’s how I ended up moving out to Philadelphia to go to rabbinical school.

Rabbinical school was amazing, but before too long I was running into the same problem there that I’d had with my writing, namely that to do this kind of work you really have to bring your authentic self, whereas I’d been doing my best to hide from my authentic self ever since I was in middle school. After a great deal of soul searching I decided to come out as transgender and start my process of transitioning, and that, of all times, was when I finally realized that I had an idea for a book that I wanted to write. It was really that closely connected — converted to Judaism, came out as trans, and then the idea for Magical Princess Harriet popped up out of nowhere begging to be written.

If anything what I’ve learned from all this is that in this life things sometimes have to happen in a certain order and I am in no way the one who gets to decide what that order is. As they say in Yiddish, a mensch tracht un got lacht (a person plans and God laughs).

The cover of Magical Princess Harriet.

RU: Reminds me of the old country. So tell us about your new book, Magical Princess Harriet. I’ve heard some good things.

RM: Magical Princess Harriet is a young adult fantasy novel that draws its inspiration in roughly equal amounts from the “magical girl” genre of anime, Jewish mysticism, and my own strong feelings about LGBT inclusion and neurodiversity in Judaism. It’s about a young trans girl named Harriet Baumgartner who is doing her best to avoid having to think about the persistent feeling she has that she’s not supposed to be a boy, when a pushy angel named Nuriel shows up and tells her that she’s a magical princess now and that it’s her job to protect her town from the forces of darkness. (A quick side note: You have no idea how difficult it is to figure out how to talk about a book in which the main character changes their name and pronouns a third of the way in without misgendering them. Of all the challenges I’ve faced in figuring out how to explain this book to people, that has been the most difficult!)

RU: Tell us about some of the characters, and why we might like (or if applicable, hate) them.

RM: Harriet I’ve talked about a little already, so let me talk about her friend Frances.

Frances and Harriet have been best friends for years, ever since they met in Hebrew school. When Frances was six years old she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and ever since she’s been pushing back against peoples’ tendency to regard her as stupid or crazy because she sometimes has trouble speaking. Obsessed with architecture, she has an inherent talent for understanding spatial relationships, which serves the kids well in the labyrinthine corridors of Arbory Middle School where the ordinary laws of space and geometry tend to break down.

The girl on the cover with the lavender hair and the dark holes where her eyes ought to be is Kasadya. She looks like that because she’s one of the nephilim, a group of creatures who got their start as angels unwilling to devote their existences to service. As a nephil-girl, she has the power to influence human minds, and she has used this ability to turn the middle school into her own private domain… well, private except for her brother Azrael, that is, but as far as she’s concerned she is the one in charge. Kasadya likes to think of herself as an epic villain from a TV show or comic book, and she’s been waiting for a hero to come along to challenge her. When Harriet shows up, glowing like a disco ball, it occurs to Kasadya that she might fit the bill — much to Harriet’s chagrin.

RU: What was the inspiration for MPH? Did any of your own life experiences make their way into or influence your writing of the story?

RM: I think all of my life experiences made it into the book in one way or another. This was an intensely personal project for me.

RU: MPH had an illustrator, Magdalena Zwierzchowska. How did you two meet and what was it like working with her on the book?

RM: When I got to the point where I was thinking seriously about publishing this book for real I knew I wanted to find an illustrator. I’ve always been a very visual person myself, and know how helpful illustrations can be in solidifying one’s sense of the world an author is presenting. How we met was fairly prosaic — I posted an ad on DeviantArt indicating that I was looking for someone to illustrate this book, and she was one of nine or ten people who responded. I was totally charmed by her work, by the gorgeous, surreal creepiness of it, and so she got the job.

Working with her was easy in some ways, difficult in others. She was extremely professional and always willing to listen to my input and feedback regarding how the characters and setting elements should look. The tough part was figuring out how to translate the images I had in my head into concrete instructions she could use. In the end I was very pleased with how it all turned out. I think it has a very unique look.

An illustration of a seraph by Magdalena Zweirczkowska.

RU: You address several issues in the pages of MPH: autism spectrum disorder, Jewish identity, gender identity, intersectionality, etc. Was it hard to talk about those subjects in the book?

RM: Yes. Not because I normally find it difficult to talk about these topics (on the contrary, most of the time I can’t shut up about them!) but because I didn’t want to address them in a way that would come across as preachy. That may sound a bit weird, coming from someone whose job literally involves preaching, but I was writing with the assumption that these were things my target audience, middle schoolers and teens, are dealing with every day, and the awareness of that fact demanded that I approach what I was doing with a self-critical eye.

RU: MPH is a crowdfunded, self-published book. What made you decide not only to self-publish, but to crowdfund your story?

RM: While it is theoretically possible that I could have found a publisher for a book like this, my hopes were not high. That has nothing to do with the quality of the book, mind you, but rather its subject matter. MPH in many ways defies categorization. I mean, Jewish fantasy is not exactly a well-represented subgenre, is it? Add on top of that the transgender element and… well, I felt like I might be able to find a publisher for a Jewish fantasy book, and I might be able to find a publisher for a queer fantasy book, but a queer, Jewish fantasy book with a transgender protagonist? That’s where I wasn’t so sure.

Also, I’ll admit, there was a part of the decision that was about actively wanting to do it myself. I’ve always been fascinated with every aspect of the publishing process, and with print-on-demand and online sales venues making it so easy to self-publish these days, it seemed like a waste to write the book and then turn it over to someone else to produce. I probably bit off more than I could chew, and I had to spend a lot of time learning about things like layout and formatting for print, but in the end I’m really happy with the way it turned out.

RU: What has the reception for MPH been like so far (from congregants, friends and family, random Internet people, etc.)?

RM: It’s still early days, but so far all the feedback I’ve been getting has been very positive. The first question of everyone who’s actually finished the book has been, “When is the next one coming out?”, so that’s pretty great to hear. My one thing is that because my Kickstarter backers are obviously all adults, I haven’t yet received any feedback from the young people who are the primary audience of the book. I’m really looking forward to that.

RU: Are you working on anything new? And what are your plans for the future?

RM: Right now I’m mainly focusing on getting the word out about Magical Princess Harriet, but I have plans for at least two more books in the series. After that… well, who knows? It all depends on what kind of response I get, I guess. I really loved writing this book, and now that I know I can, I feel like there’s very little stopping me from writing another, and another, and…

RU: What advice would you give another writer, regardless of background or experience?

RM: Write! But that’s ridiculously obvious and patronizing, so I take it back. Here’s the best piece of advice I can give: Take the time to figure out who you are and to learn how to be okay with that. Writing can be this incredibly daunting thing because those ideas and feelings on the page you just handed to someone else to read are basically you. It’s hard not to get intimidated by that and start pulling back, to restrain the words, force them into a mold that’s more about what you think others are expecting than it is about what you have to write. Edit your writing, not yourself.

And also: It is ridiculously easy to publish a book these days. Give it a try, you’ll see what I mean.

RU: Final question: if you were stuck on a desert island for a little while and could only take three books with you, which ones would you picks?

RM: Ack! That’s so hard! Assuming that “three books” refers to three actual bound volumes and that bringing an entire set would be cheating, I have to go with:

  • Volume 2 of my portable Talmud set (the one with massechet Chagigah)
  • 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
  • A copy of The Star of Redemption by Franz Rosenzweig, because then I might be able to actually finish the darn thing.

RU: Thanks for being on the show, Rabbi Moser. We all hope the book does well.

If you’re interested in checking out Magical Princess Harriet, you can check it out on Amazon. And I highly recommend checking out her website Dag Gadol. Trust me, it’s a great site and I always enjoy seeing new posts in my inbox.

And if you would like to have an interview for your new book, hit me up on my Interviews page or email me at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com, and we’ll see if we can make some magic happen.

Those of you who’ve followed me for a while know that I am on the autism spectrum, and that I’ve had opportunities to speak about it a couple of times, including a widely-circulated video which I posted back in March. I was able to get my job partially because of my autism, and a lot of the work I do involves working with, accommodating, and advocating for people with disabilities in the workplace, including but certainly not limited to autism. I don’t go around everywhere broadcasting my diagnosis, but it does come up on occasion.

One of those recent occasions was for my organization’s newsletter. I was asked to write a short essay, about a page long, about having a disability, about the program that helped me get a job in my organization, and what that’s been like. That article was published recently, along with a couple of other testimonials, and it’s been getting around. A lot of people have been coming up to me and thanking me for being so open with my story.

Today, I got an email from someone in my organization who had read the article, and had contacted me asking for advice. His adult nephew had been diagnosed with autism a couple of years ago, well past the point where intervention can be at its most effective. And in the  years since his diagnosis, his life has not gotten easier. I won’t go into details, but it was heartbreaking to read the man’s email and to hear about his nephew’s suffering.

At the end of the email, he asked what could be done for his nephew, and if maybe the program that helped me get my job could help his nephew.

What do you say to something like that? What sort of comfort can you give when there’s already so much pain?

I don’t know if I ever meant to be an advocate for people with disabilities. But over time, that role has kind of been molded around me. A good part of this has been because of my job. As I said, I have to advocate for people with disabilities in the workplace. To that end, I’ve learned how to market to people who are able-bodied why they should hire more people with disabilities. I can tell them that people with disabilities have a much lower turnover rate than the general population, 8% compared to 45%, that getting them accommodations rarely gets anywhere near the $500 mark, and then back all that up by talking about my own satisfaction with my position, and how the only accommodation I’ve needed for my ASD was permission to listen to my iPod or audiobooks while doing certain tasks. I’ve also been asked to do essays, like I did for the newsletter, and the video I recorded back in March. And sometimes it just comes up, like when explaining how I got my internship in Germany (yeah, my ASD played a part in that), or using it to illustrate a point in conversation, or a hundred different scenarios.

One way or another, it seems like I was meant to be an advocate, especially at this point in my life, when I’m doing so well at work, living on my own, and even as a writer.

But as a giver of advice? I’m not sure I expected that. And I get why it’s happening. Autism is a scary diagnosis for anyone to get, as well as for the loved ones of those diagnosed. It’s a disorder that varies widely from person to person, it can never be cured, the cause is still unknown,* the number of people being diagnosed with it has grown exponentially with improved diagnostic tools. Depending on what traits are present or what other disorders are present with autism can also affect everything from therapy to school choices to possibilities in adulthood. And when the diagnosis is made in adulthood, as happened with the young man whose uncle emailed me, it can be a sort of terrifying that no horror story can tap into. With all that in mind, hearing from someone who not only has the same diagnosis, but is successful in the real world, can be a soothing balm for the mind and soul.

I just wish I had all the answers. Or that I was more confident in the answers I have to give.

But if I’m going to give any sort of advice, it’s that we shouldn’t deny or try to hide our diagnoses. We shouldn’t try to be “normal,” because normal doesn’t exist, especially not for us. We process the world so differently than everyone else, but that doesn’t mean we have to be ashamed or afraid. I’m able to succeed and do the things I do every day because I process differently. So embrace your different. It may be called a disability, but it can be an asset too. Some of the greatest innovators and creators the world has ever known have been on the spectrum. And once we learn to work with the issues we have, we can learn to become those great innovators and creators.

And don’t be afraid to look for or ask for help. Even if you’re diagnosed later in life, there’s still plenty of resources for you. Many states, including my beloved Ohio, have programs that offer help and direction for people with disabilities and families, whether they be children or well into adulthood. Many schools have or are adding programs to ensure the disabled can take full advantage of their educations. More and more employers are recognizing the importance of hiring people with disabilities, and what they can contribute. We’re not being left alone like a ship in a storm. There is help.

Living my life strong, no matter what my diagnosis is.

And it’s important to be open about your diagnosis, especially with your friends, family, coworkers and teachers. Keeping it a secret has never helped anyone get by. It’s better to be open, so that those around us are better equipped to work with us, and join us on our journey as we work our way through life. I know it’s scary, and you don’t want to be any different than anyone else. But remember, there’s no normal. We’re all different, and many of us wear it on our sleeves. Might as well display this different too, if only to make life a little easier.

I hope you find this helpful. I hope the man who emailed me today found my advice helpful. And if you or someone you know has autism, I hope that no matter what, you or your loved one is able to hold their head up high and know this: you are great the way you are.

*And if you’re about to comment saying some bull about vaccines, let me tell you a story, since anti-vaxxers seem to value testimony more rather than scientific consensus: my mother has told me a few times that I was different from the day I was born, well before I received my first vaccine. I was nothing like the baby books predicted I’d be, and it wasn’t until my younger sister was born that she saw any of that stuff. I trust her word, so that means vaccines had nothing to do with the way I am. And if you still insist that vaccines had something to do with the way I am, you may be calling my mother a liar, and them’s fighting words.