When I say that I started writing stories as soon as I knew how, it’s not as much of an exaggeration as most people assume.
When I was 4-ish, my Dad got a promotion to work with Kenneth Lane Thompson on Unix, a project that would form the foundations of today's Internet. That meant moving from Austalia to upstate New York for about 18 months. Because the move was temporary, my parents didn't bother to buy a TV, and most of the fiction books we had were borrowed from the library.
As such, my sisters and I had to make up our own entertainment, for the most part. As the oldest, that was largely considered my responsibility. I was a great lover of books and stories, even then, so I would take what I remembered of the books I'd read that day, mix it with whatever my imagination came up with, and we would improvise from there.
The trend continued as I grew.
In stories written on whatever paper was handy, I didn't have to be the weird, bullied kid that no-one wanted to play with. I could be the princess, the heroine, even the dragon, if I wanted. The ideas everone had mocked in class could come to fruitation, or be crumpled up and thrown away, as I chose.
I had one or two very close friends, but none of them attended my school, so books were my company and my comfort.
Around the same time, I discovered a love of ballet and musical theatre (in case the subtitle wasn't your first clue...)
That expensive habit became a lot easier to afford after I started working, and didn't have to wait for Christmas and birthdays to ask my parents for tickets.
On December 26th, 2005, a few months before my 20th birthday, my twin drowned.
I remember the night, and the week following, as clearly as if it happened yesterday. I remember giving a speech at the funeral, stone-faced on the outside but internally feeling like a ghost ship, untethered and drifting. I remember the sorrow of breaking up with my semi-boyfriend after his mother came to collect him from the wake and 'casually' mentioned that my inheritance must be much bigger now, right?
I wish I was joking about that.
The three-to-five years afterward blurred together somewhat, as I tried to rebuild my life as an autonomous unit.
My twin had been mentally disabled, as well as struggling with a number of health issues. We'd been premature babies, and Sally embodied that to a greater degree than I did. Autism, Epilepsy, Learning Difficulties, Dysgraphia, low immune system... the family joke was that she'd caught every childhood disease known to man, then helped discover a few more.
It had been a fact of life that Sally would never be a fully independant adult, and that I would be something of a carer for her. I'd grown up in that mindset, and suddenly had to adjust to a world where the only person I needed to concern myself with... was me.
In 2008, I was finally diagnosed as being on the Autism Spectrum.
I’d known that I didn’t think the same as most people for most of my life. My parents had suspected Autism for a long time, but the difficulty had been in the diagnosis. With low-support Autism being seen as a “men’s problem”, Autistic girls presenting different symptoms than displayed in the majority of (male-centric) studies and Autism in general being viewed as either Savant or High-Support... my parents had to take on the Board of Education in court to get Sally the support she needed, and I “passed” a lot better than she did.
I know that trying to get me diagnosed earlier would have failed, but forgive me for being bitter about it.
In 2011, I discovered the Society of Creative Anachronism, a Historical Re-enactment group that spans the modern known world.
Having repeatedly failed to get me out of my room and the cloud of Depression I was in by other means, my parents enthusiastically shoved me into a world that encouraged my remaining loves: dressing up, history, and fantasy.
Regardless of how much I resisted at the time, I'm glad they did, because it's where I met several members of my found family, and began to discover who Natasja, rather than Natasja-and-Sally, was.
The SCA is made up of people, and as a collective it is far from flawless, but it was also the place I finally felt free to be myself.
Founded in California in 1965, the day before Star Trek premiered, the SCA has always had a strong non-cishet presence. In the early days, they clustered together in Clan Blue Feather, the place for all people and things Rainbow. Half a century later, Clan Blue Feather is more of a background support group and an indication that a gathering or class is going to be explicitly LGBTQ+-themed, but that doesn't mean that the members disappeared.
Honestly, it's rarer to find someone in the SCA who is 100% cis-Straight, than the reverse.
It wasn't until I actually spent time in that crowd that I eventually come to the conclusion that while gender was not a consideration in determining who I found attractive, any inclination toward physical intimacy was still very much absent.
I hadn't been interested in sex or kissing in High School, completely failed to participate in celebrity crushes (Though Eomer, Legolas, Evie Carnahan-O'Connel and Ardeth Bey will forever hold a place in my heart...) and finally gave up on the oft-repeated assurance that I'd "find the one someday."
Anyone I dated would have to be ok with sex being a non-factor. Or Polyamourous or Kinky, just so long as sexy times didn't involve me.
There has been a lot of debate around labels, but hearing the term Panromantic Asexual for the first time really did feel like a missing piece of a puzzle sliding into place.
I'd been writing all my life, and in July of 2015, after two years struggling with rejection letters that all boiled down to "we love the story, but we don't think we can sell it to the mainstream audience right now", I self-published my first book.
I also started participating in NaNoWriMo, and made more friends at the assorted writing group meet ups (More on that later).
In 2018, two years after publishing my first non-fiction book, I started writing opinion pieces on Medium, with a focus on whatever had annoyed me or invoked strong feelings recently.
In late 2019, during the Black Summer Bushfires, I joined with a number of other authors to participate in two charity anthologies, both published in 2020. That led me to Sea Lion Press, who included my short story, The Emu Conquest, in their Alternate History anthology.
Hm, maybe there was something to publishing individual short stories, rather than waiting until I had 30,000 words worth of them to make a book...
Being a nerdy loner in High School, and one who wasn't interested in boys unless they were capable of holding intelligent conversation, it took until my late 20s to form a relationship that lasted beyond the third date.
Dae was small, blonde and non-binary, and we talked about the MCU for three hours at our first meeting. They were also Asexual, which was a bonus. My first date with Dae and their girlfriend, Jaz, started with The Winter Soldier and didn't end until the wait-staff kicked us out of the street cafe so they could close for the night.
I dated Jaz for six months, and Dae and I continued for almost three years after that. We broke up due to a number of factors, but primarily because we wanted different things, and I was sick of last-second cancellations and never being a priority. We called it quits in mid-August of 2019.
In November of 2018, during NaNoWriMo (told you we'd come back to that), I'd formed a friendship with Lyndal (she/they, looks great in a suit), another fanfiction enthusist. After injuring themselves getting off a train during a group excusion and spending an hour trying to find a chemist in a country town that was open after 11:30 on a Sunday, I shared a writing prompt and wrote the first chapter as a 'feel better soon' present.
The resulting fangirl screams and flailing had the entire train carriage looking up from their computers and mobile phones.
Lyndal offered to copy edit in exchange for not having to wait until I posted online to read the chapters, and I happily took them up on it.
After Dae and I broke up, I spent some time sounding out if Lyndal was opposed to dating girls (never actually thought about it) and their stance on Asexuality (Demiromantic, sex-repulsed, loves cuddles, so glad we'll never have to have that fight), and took Neil Gaiman's advice of a written invitation to invite them to pizza and a movie.
Lyndal still has the stock invitation tucked away in a writing notebook.
In March of 2020, Australia entered it's first lockdown.
Lyndal and I had only then-recently made things Facebook Official, but with both of our families residing outside the travel bubble of 5km, we siezed on the Intimate Partner bubble excuse.
(Intimacy doesn’t have to be sexual, and if the government didn’t mean for it to apply like that, then they should have specified)
We had been holding off making the relationship public until Lyndal was sure that it was squishy romantic feelings and not just new-friend feelings, and honestly both forgot that we hadn't updated our relationship status. Awkward moment when Lyndal's sister had to explain to the New Zealand side of the family - who found out through Facebook - that she'd only met me once, because the Kiwi relatives hadn't even realised that Lyndal was dating anyone.
The Pandemic was a make-or-break for a lot of couples.
Before that, our dates had mostly been dinner and a movie or show or performance of some kind, a few times a month.
With that off the table, we started doing weekly dinners, cuddling on the couch while watching a movie (I have Netflix and Disney+, Lyndal has Stan and CuriosityStream).
That’s progressed to every other night and weekends at my place, now that I actually have a spare bedroom.
(I snore, and Lyndal is an octopus whose body temperature runs hot. Also, I do shiftwork, and it beats both of us waking up to a 5:30 a.m. alarm...)
Romance is a lot easier to write when you have good examples to base it off.