This week’s interview is with contemporary romance author MA Hinkle, whose book Weight of Living has just been released!
Don’t like the podcast format? You can also view the podcast on YouTube. (Closed captions are available for the YouTube video.)
TRANSCRIPT BELOW VIDEO
Dianna: Hello, and welcome to the Spoonie Author’s Podcast: a podcast where we explore a different disabled author’s stories each week. I’m your host, DIanna Gunn, and this week’s guest is M. A. Hinkle: a contemporary romance novelist and author of the Cherrywood Grove series. Her most recent book, Weight of Living, was released just this past Monday. Hello, M.A!
M.A: Hello, how are you?
Dianna: I am great, actually! I just finished a huge writing project, so, very excited. And I’m very excited to finally chat with you. How are you?
M.A: I’m great! Just wrapped up my revisions of another book, so things are skating right along.
Dianna: Amazing! So congratulations on finishing those revisions, and congratulations on your release of Weight of Living. Can you tell us more about this book?
M.A: Well it’s set in the Cherrywood Grove universe, which is a contemporary romance series where everyone is queer. You don’t have to have read the first two books, but characters from it do appear in this one. This one is a story about Trisha, who is a photographer who’s just in town for the summer, but she keeps running into this cute chef who and maybe sort of gets a huge crush on her, which would be really super inconvenient. And then more things happen. I’m bad at pitches.
Dianna: And why exactly is the crush on this lady inconvenient? Is it because she’s only in the town temporarily? Or is it a secret?
M.A: Yeah, she actually is from Chicago. So she’s a big city girl coming into this small town and going “Oh, no, I love it here, I don’t know if I want to stay or not, and if it’s because I have googly eyes for this cute lady”
Dianna: Well that can definitely complicate things. *laughs*. A very attractractive person can make a place even more attractive, am I right? So you wrote Weight of Living during your first MCS flare. Can you talk about what MCAS is to our listeners? I almost said listeners. *laughs*
M.A: I mean, hopefully you’re doing transcripts for this so.
Dianna: We absolutely are doing transcripts actually. And hopefully we will have closed captions too if I can get things to cooperate.
M.A: Oh yeah, accessibility!
Dianna: So yeah, tell us about MCAS.
M.A: So the I usually explain it to people, even though it’s not super accurate, is it’s sort of like super allergies. Um, I’m really sensitive to things like dust and pollen and things like that. And,uh, the symptoms look like normal allergies and are treatable with antihistamines and things like that, but it’s not the same system in your body. Like I went through this whole thing where I was trying to get allergy testing and do desensitization treatment, but nothing was working and I just got sicker and sicker until I realized that no, it works completely differently, and I need to do different things to take care of it. Um, so, yeah. It’s basically fancy allergies, but worse.
Dianna: *laughs* That sounds pretty brutal, and the confusion sounds like the worst possible thing. Trying to do all these things to help, but nothing helps because you’re down the completely wrong road to begin with.
Dianna: So how did this impact your writing process?
M.A: Um, it was really difficult because what happened to me is, um, I was sleeping in the attic of my house. It was super dusty, and I was sleeping on this really old bed that was full of dust mites. So every time I would lay down to sleep I was tucked under the ceiling on this old musty bed, and I couldn’t get any rest. So for like, about 6 months out of the year for the past few years, I was just sleeping. Which obviously made it really hard to sit down and get some work done. It was – uh, really difficult to deal with because I had just come off writing my second book, which I wrote before my symptoms started, so that one was a dream to work on. And then I was like “Okay, I like these characters, this world works, I know what comes next, can not sit down to work and concentrate”, and I basically had to make a choice between using my limited resources on work that would pay me immediately, or writing. And obviously I had to pick the work that would put money in my bank account right away.
Turns out, stress and anxiety can be triggers for MCAS as well. Basically your body freaks out so much that it just explodes. There’s technical explanations for all this, but that’s what happens. It just all gets worse. And so until I figured out what was actually going on, I didn’t know how to treat any of it, and I just was not getting any work done. So I wrote this book over the course of like a year, but working on it was just hell basically because I was beating myself up for not being able to concentrate like I was used to. And I really didn’t get anywhere until I was like, no, I’m sick, and I need to seriously downgrade my expectations of what I can get done, pretty much.
Dianna: Yeah. When you are used to producing a certain amount, and also just in our culture right now. Even for people who just have day jobs it’s totally normalized that you know, the good worker works 40 hours a week and then does some extra stuff.
Dianna: And not being able to meet that standard is really hard on the ego.
M.A: And that’s how I’ve been my whole life. I’ve always been a person who, um, I don’t like to have writing as the only thing that I’m doing. That doesn’t work well for me. So having to be like “no, I can either work or write” and sometimes I do have to prioritize the writing or I’m going to lose my mind, was a really hard decision for me. And figuring out how this all worked was super tricky.
Dianna: Yeah. So, we’ve talked so far about the struggles of writing this book, but Weight of Living is an awesome project so I want to ask: what was the most exciting part of writing this book? And yes, you are allowed to say finishing it. *laughs*
M.A: Finishing it was horrible, because I started writing what I thought was going to be the end of it did not work. And I was like “nope, nope, got to rip the whole thing up” so, no, finishing it was also bad. *laughs*It’s been rough. But what was good about working on this book, and what kept me coming back even though I was frustrated, was: my first two books were about boys, which was nice, they were books I wrote as nice comfortable security blankets when I was really depressed before I got sick. And they were really nice to write because it’s like “here’s a happy little fantasy about, you know, two boys falling in love”. And then Weight of Living is about two women, uh, and the main character Tricia is trans. And it was just basically “this is also a fantasy of a trans person gets to come to a town like the one I live in, and everyone loves her and treats her really nicely and she meets a beautiful woman who is basically the girl of their dreams and they have a really nice time”.
So it was fun to do something that was a little closer to my experience, and also just – um – the other big thing in this book is that the love interest, Gabby, is not out to any of her family about being gay because she only realizes it right before her father dies. Spoilers, I guess? Technically you don’t find that out until the end of the book. It’s a lesbian romance, obviously she’s gay. So um, but her experience of not realizing that the feelings she had for women were more than friendship is something that was really true to my life, so digging into that and writing about her slowly realizing what was going on in her head the whole time, that was really personal. Those parts really came from my own experience.
Dianna: That’s awesome. Did you find that it also helped you process those experiences? Was it cathartic in some ways?
M.A: Um, yeah! It really was – like I said, writing about guys there’s a sense of removal, cuz I’m not a guy. So like, it’s easier to just be like “do do, this is fun and happy”, while writing about women – I’m nonbinary, not a woman, but I grew up thinking I was a woman, and relating to having crushes on other women and not understanding what was going on. SAo writing about that specific experience where you’re super close to your friends and realizing that the feelings you have for them are different from the feelings they have for you is something that really took way longer than it should have for me to work out. So writing about that was really nice and fun.
Dianna: Awesome! And it sounds like such a sweet story.
M.A: Uh, that’s what I hope. Um, cuz like, there’s – technically I guess there’s some drama, because there’s a subplot about Gabby’s niece going through a rough break up. But that’s the most drama that’s in there. It’s girls talking and watching anime and having a good time.
Dianna: *laughs* I hear someone saying hello in the background.
M.A: I’m sorry, he’s mad because I have the door shut, but if I go in there he will be even louder.
M.A: Um, the good boy is sitting in my room right now being very quiet and not causing any problems. The other one would come in and bother the good boy, they’d fight.
Dianna: That’s alright, that sounds pretty much exactly like my cats’ dynamic.
Dianna: So the troublemaker has already used up all his trouble for the day, and now is having a nice long nap.
M.A: *laughs* oh I wish. I wish that he could use up his trouble. He’s like, I think he’s like 2? So he’s in that horrible teenage cat phase where he’s big enough to get into real trouble and he won’t stop. It’s terrible. It’s good he’s so cute.
Dianna: Yeah our younger cat is so cute, we have been through some things but we still love him. Cats are excellent companions for disabled authors, I’m just gonna throw that out there. I would love to have a dog but I just can’t take care of a big dog.
M.A: Mhm. My parents have dogs, so I can have them around, which is really nice. If I was living by myself, absolutely not. There are days when I can get out of bed, but functioning beyond sitting staring at my phone is not an option. Cats are great because you just need to make sure their food bowl is full.
Dianna: Yeah, and they usually know when you’re not feeling well and come cuddle you. I mean dogs do that too. They just have so much energy.
M.A: Well the dogs that I have are like 70 pounds a piece, so if they come to cuddle me what they’re actually doing is smothering me alive.
Dianna: That still sounds pretty great to me, I’ve got to be honest. *laughs* I will happily be smothered by your big ass dogs. Alright, so getting back to the topic: one of the biggest struggles of becoming disabled is there isn’t really a lot of good representation. There are a lot of misconceptions that people have. And a lot of it comes from the media we consume. So can you talk a little bit in terms of representation in the media, and what you would like to see in the next few years?
M.A: Um, well the thing about my particular condition is it’s not really rare, but it’s not out in the public consciousness yet. Which is part of the problem, because, um, a lot of people – the common story, the way I found out about this disease was from a person I follow on tumblr who basically spent her whole life being told “you’re just nuts, there’s nothing wrong with you, you need to take antidepressants or stop lying”. And it turned out no actually, she was having minor anaphylactic reactions that got worse and worse until she almost died and finally found somebody. So in this particular case, it would be nice to have anything at all to tell people that it exists and that maybe there’s something else going on other than ordinary allergies or like…. I’m lucky in that mine isn’t actually that bad and I caught it early, and I can manage it with treatment fairly well. But a lot of people just keep getting worse and worse until they’re reacting to basically anything. Like this person I follow on tumblr, her name is Joy Demorra, The Bibliosphere on tumblr she’s really great, um she got to the point where she could eat like two foods without triggering her allergies. Otherwise she was totally in danger of dying. Having anyone talk about this at all would be great.
But at the same time, you know, with disability representation you fall into the problem of “the miracle cure” where you try so hard and then you’re fine! Or you know people are like “it’s all in your head!” that’s the big one that is the problem. You know, like “you’re just imagining what’s wrong with you, you just need to try harder and will whatever’s wrong with you away”. And that is so damaging. That’s what I tried doing for so long until I finally admitted “no, something is actually wrong with me”. Um, and if I hadn’t snapped out of that mindset, I would have been a lot sicker than I am now because I never would have actually treated my symptoms. And I think a lot of people run into that situation where they just try so hard that they almost kill themselves, and when they become too sick to do literally anything else, that’s when they finally stop and get help.
Dianna: I mean, there’s a lot to cover. There’s so much to discuss.
M.A: Like I have to admit, um, until I started being more online, ableism wasn’t a thing that was necessarily on my radar. Uh, just because it’s so pervasive in our culture, you know? And before I got sick I was really trying to push it out of my language and be more sensitive, but I didn’t didn’t realize how bad it was until I tried to seek out other people with MCAS and trying to find treatment, and seeing people struggle with benefits and getting basic respect from other human beings. It’s horrible. Um, it’s all around us, but it can be so elusive until something happens to you. Which is the worst part, I think.
Dianna: Absolutely. And you know, I think that a lot of it (I’ve said this in other interviews) I think that a lot of it is just ignorance. Until I started really becoming part of disability communities online, I didn’t really – like I had some idea because I had been mentally ill for most of my life and I was aware of the stigma there, but I hadn’t really ingrained other forms of ableism are in our culture. Tropes like the miracle cure, and the idea that it’s the only thing you ever want is really toxic. The idea that you can’t be happy living with your disability.
M.A: Mhm. Uh, that one like, like – I personally wouldn’t complain about having a cure for MCAS because it’ll just kill me if I’m not careful. But things like people with limb differences or paraplegic or whatever, they just need adaptations in society. That’s literally it. But we’re so, like, unwilling to see that things could be different and better for everyone that we prefer to let people suffer, and it’s disgusting.
Dianna: Absolutely. I completely agree with that. And I think that in the media, a lot of people just aren’t having this conversation yet, or they’re having the conversation in extremely limited ways.
M.A: Mhmm. Oh, it’s like – I feel like, not that I really want to compare the two at all, but my experience of finding out about disabled culture is a lot like how I found out about queer culture. I live in a really rural area, so I didn’t have a lot of contact either with a lot of disabled people, or a lot of queer people. So the experience of coming out as queer was like slowly finding out about a whole conversation that is basically happening in a parallel universe. I didn’t know about it until it was relevant to me. And the same thing with ableism, except it’s way more obvious and there are people screaming in plain sight, and people keep walking. Like, that’s how it is. It’s just awful.
Dianna: Absolutely. Are there any stories that you have encountered that are handling disability representation well that you’d like to give a shout out to?
M.A: Uh, nothing relevant that I can think of for myself, unfortunately. I really pondered about this question but the problem is so many bad things exist – the bad thing that happened with me was when I started getting sick, I kind of stopped consuming new media for a while. So I didn’t have a chance to look for anything that was specifically called out for having positive disability because I didn’t read a new book or watch a new show. But I know that, I don’t know if it’s already out yet, but there’s a book that I keep seeing on my Twitter feed called Sick Kids in Love. That’s supposed to be pretty good, I haven’t personally read it, but.
Dianna: Sick Kids in Love has come out, I haven’t read it either, but I have heard so much shouting and enthusiastic internet screaming about it, so I want to shout that one out as well. I don’t usually read that sort of thing, I’ve just heard so many glowing recommendations for it from people that I really trust that I will probably end up picking up a copy of that as well.
M.A: I thought of one more thing – Okay, the book is Get a Life, Chloe Brown By Talia Hibert. The main character is dealing with an invisible disability, and it’s handled amazingly. I know an article the author wrote about – um – dealing with chronic pain that was just mind blowingly good. It’s on my list to read like ASAP.
Dianna: Awesome! That all sounds very exciting, and I hope that as things go on we can talk about more and more disabled stories released into the world. I hope these books coming out is a part of a large and prosperous trend.
M.A: I don’t mean to sound so pessimistic. I really do think things are getting better. It’s just – the moment is still building, is what I think it is. Publishing is always about 10 years behind what’s happening in the rest of the world. And so is the rest of media. If people yell louder and people pay attention, publishing will eventually catch up. We’ll see more actually good representation. Clearly people have an appetite for media about people being sick, because we have so many of them. We just need to have them written by people who themselves are sick and can talk about what it’s actually like, instead of weirdness.
Dianna: Yeah, instead of overromanticizing it and, you know, basically suffering porn.
M.A: inspiration porn.
Dianna: Inspiration porn, yeah. I do think there is still a place for abled people to write stories with disabled characters, but I think absolutely what we need is more authentic experiences. If we don’t have that, how are abled people supposed to have something to work with? How are they supposed to have research to go by?
M.A: Mhm. Or how are supposedly abled people supposed to see “oh wait, maybe something is wrong that I’ve been ignoring”
Dianna: Especially for women and marginalized people who are not believed in medical establishments anyway.
Dianna: It’s so horrifying. You know, most disabled people I know, but EVERY disabled woman I know has at least one story about being told by a doctor that she was flat out lying about her illness.
M.A: *laughs* Yeah, oh boy. Like I…I think, after I realized what was wrong with me (which was about 6 months after I started having symptoms), I went through all the medication I had cycled through trying to treat my “anxiety” because none of my doctors questioned when I said “I think I had a panic attack” even though I’ve had anxiety my whole life, and I’ve never had these symptoms before, and it just came out of nowhere. Like, no one stopped to ask if there was a physiological thing at work. If you start having panic attacks out of nowhere, and you never had allergies in your life, that could be an anaphylactic reaction. That is a recognized symptom of your body going into shock. Um, so probably get that looked at. Just saying,
Dianna: Yeah. And unfortunately sometimes you need to fight really really hard to actually get our doctors to acknowledge that. I’d like to think that more media representation would change that, but *laughs* Alright, so it has been lovely chatting with you, but I think it is time for us to wrap up. So tell me more about you and where they can grab a copy of The Weight of Living.
M.A: Um, well, The Weight of Living is now live at basically all major book retailers. If you preorder it through my publisher, Nine Star Press, you can actually get a copy of the book three days early so you can read it on Valentines Day. Um, the main place to find me is on Twitter, @skysongma , but I do also have a Facebook page and my website has links to all my books and…stuff that you put on a website. It’s just my name.
Dianna: Awesome! Thank you so much for joining us, it has been lovely to chat, and I hope you have a wonderful day!
M.A: You too.
Dianna: Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of The Spoonie Author’s Podcast. The Spoonie Author’s Podcast is part of The Spoonie Author’s Network: a community initiative devoted to the stories of disabled authors, and educating abled on what life is like for disabled creatives. Transcripts of this podcast are available on the Spoonie Author’s Network. To learn more, or become a contributor, visit spoonieauthorsnetwork.blog . Of course, if you enjoyed this podcast, make sure to leave a 5 star review on your favorite podcast streaming platform.