Interview about aphantasia with Cheyenne Blue

Cheyenne Blue author

First of all, please tell us about your books! How many sapphic books have you written so far, and what’s your latest sapphic book about?

I’m the author of nine sapphic romance novels and novellas, with my tenth, For the Long Run, coming in October. In addition, I’ve edited a couple of anthologies of sapphic erotica, and have around one hundred short stories in various anthologies going back to 2000.

My latest sapphic book is The Number 94 Project. It’s the story of country girl Jorgie, who is left a dilapidated old house in inner-city Melbourne by her Uncle Bruce. Jorgie intends renovating and selling quick-smart and returning to the outback. But the terms of the will and the eclectic queer community of Gaylord Street scupper her plans. And then she finds herself falling for next-door-neighbour Marta.

 

What kind of imagery is affected by aphantasia for you? Is it just visual imagery, or is mental sound, taste, smell, and touch affected too?

It’s the lack of visual imagery I notice the most—I have the black screen when I close my eyes –but I’m also unable to recall taste, smell, and touch. Sound? Well, I can get stuck with an earworm like everyone else, and often sing songs in my head. I’ve read very little about this though, so I’m not sure if my ability to belt out AC/DC in my head is because I’m hearing the song or is because I have a good memory and inner monologue.

 

Do you have an inner voice or an inner monologue

Yes, I do, although it’s not all the time—that would be very intrusive. But I plan my day, hold conversations with myself, and sometimes form the words in my head for “Gotta buy milk”.

 

Do you remember how you discovered that you have aphantasia? Did you grieve the fact that you don’t have an ability that the majority of people have?

I had no idea people could actually see things in their head. It’s not something that’s talked about—we all assume we’re the same.

In the past, I tried meditating and it always went the same way. I’d sit comfortably, close my eyes and the guided meditation would say, “Imagine you are on a beach.” I’d see nothing, but my inner monologue would say, “Okay, it’s a beach. There’s white sand, turquoise sea, little wavelets lapping to shore. The beach curves and is fringed by palm trees. There’s a couple of rocks along the shoreline in front of me.”  After a few minutes, as the guide would ask me to go deeper into the beach scene, That’s when I’d decide it was pointless and stop—all I was doing was describing a scene to myself with words.

About three or four years ago, I chanced upon an article on aphantasia and was blown away that people could see actual images in their minds. That’s when I realized my experience was not the usual one.

Far from grieving that I don’t have the ability to visual, I’m happy that I don’t.  I love the quietness of my mind at times, I love how I can just stare off and watch a tree blowing in the wind without the intrusion of other thoughts or images.

For all that I can’t visualize or recollect scenes or images afterwards, I’m completely unable to watch horror or violence on TV (I hide behind the cushions!). Instead of a recollection of the images, I have a sense of paralysing dread and the remembered terror is very visceral. Disaster movies are the worst—seeing people trapped in the face of their impending doom.  I’m so glad I don’t have a visual recollection of things like this.

 

How do you think aphantasia influences your life, for the better and the worse?

I love to spend time outdoors, and I’m happiest in unpopulated places. My head is clear, and I can watch the birds, the trees, the way the grains of sand blow down a dune. My memory of favourite places is built on words rather than images.

I live primarily in the present and that is a good place to be. It also means I seldom miss places after I’ve left them. I’ve lived in some amazing places in my life, and before leaving each of them, I’m sad because I think I’ll miss them. But after I’ve left, I never do—I’m too busy leaning about and experiencing a new place, although I will think of previous places with pleasure.  I consider myself a truly happy person, and I think living primarily in the present has a lot to do with this.

 

How do you think aphantasia influences your writing? Do you feel your writing process is different from writers who don’t have aphantasia?

I’ve recently learned that some writers’ characters talk with them, and that the writing process is simply transcribing a movie in their head.  Wow. Just wow.

I can’t easily describe my writing process. I certainly don’t see the characters, and my inner monologue is silent when I’m writing. The closest I can come to describing it is an automatic brain-to-keyboard connection with very little conscious processing going on. This is probably why my first drafts are so horrible. Thank goodness for editing. 😊

 

How do you experience reading? Do you enjoy reading fiction? Do you hear a voice, e.g., a narrator, the characters, or your own inner voice narrating? Do you struggle with long descriptive passages?

I love reading, and have read voraciously since I was a kid. I’m a fast reader. As with my writing, I can’t quite explain how reading for pleasure works for me. I don’t hear an outside voice or my inner-voice narrating. The words go from the page to my mind by osmosis. I have no conscious recall of how they get there. They just do. I’ve tried consciously to note what happens when I read, but I never can pin it down.

That’s reading for pleasure. When I’m reading during editing or proofreading, I go a lot slower and it’s a conscious choice to have my inner voice narrate the words. If I slip into reading for pleasure mode (and sometimes I do), that’s when I miss errors. I take very frequent breaks to reset when I’m reading for work.

I always prefer reading to watching a movie—and I seldom do. And porn?  Visual porn does nothing for me. Give me the written word every time. 😊

 

Do you struggle writing description and have to consciously remind yourself to put descriptive details into your writing?

No! I love description, both reading and writing it. When I’m self-editing, I often remove excess description because it can bog down the story. It’s as if I’m compensating for my lack of visualization.

Interestingly, I’ve read that people with aphantasia often put little description in their writing. The one compliment I always get about my writing is that the setting or landscape for the story is almost a character in its own right, and that the setting is so vivid that it draws people in and makes the reader feel they are there, along with the characters.

 

Are there any tools you use when writing to compensate for your inability to visualize, e.g., maps, floor plans, photos of celebrities you cast as your characters, etc.?

I always find photos that represent my main characters. Sometimes celebrities, more often hairdressing models. Those hairdressing sites “Fifty hairstyles for people in their thirties” are gold for this. I pin them on a board and glance at them often when writing. I also write detailed character descriptions and keep them close to refer to.

For physical places, I always set a story somewhere I know extremely well. I’ll move the town to another location, or give it a new name, but using a place I know intimately makes it easier to keep it consistent. I’ll pick a house I know well for a main character’s home as well. That way the bathroom is less likely to move mid-story, or the house suddenly gain a balcony.

I also write best when I’m actually physically present where the story is set. That’s why all my stories are set in Australia. It would be extremely difficult for me to set a story in Colorado or Ireland now—not just the descriptions of the setting, but how people talk—the language, the words, speech patterns, and so on.

 

When you are writing, do you have to remind yourself that your characters’ inner lives differ from yours, e.g., remind yourself to show a character have a mental image flash through their mind?

No, this is easy. “A picture of Mary flashed into her mind.” That’s the default, it seems, in so many books I’ve read. I always thought it was just an expression though.

 

How are you doing with love scenes? Do you feel aphantasia has any influence on your ability to write steamy scenes?

I don’t think it makes any difference, although of course I’ve inadvertently given a character three hands on occasion, or left their socks on.

 

Do you dream visually, and have you ever dreamed about your characters?

I have very vivid colourful dreams, although at some point during the dream I usually know I’m dreaming and can sometimes wake myself out of a dream. I’ve never dreamed about a character though. Famous people and real people, yes. Characters, no. Unless you count Captain Janeway. 😊

 

Where can readers find you if they want to know more about you and your books? 

You can find me here:

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I have a website – www.cheyenneblue.com – and send a monthly newsletter with updates on what I’m working on, upcoming releases, books I’ve read and loved, as well as snippets of what I’m up to outside of reading and writing. You can sign up at www.cheyenneblue.com/newsletter and grab yourself a free book at the same time.

 

Check out other interviews with aphantasic authors of sapphic books

This interview is part of a series of interviews with aphantasic authors of sapphic books. To read the other interviews and find out more about aphantasia, check out Jae’s article on aphantasia.