Monthly Archives: October 2012

Accessible Excerpts: A Choice

This is an excerpt from my novel, By Wingéd Chair, one in a series of posts in which I try to show how I use disabilities in my writing. Click here for my intro to the series.

Afer finding her home in shambles and her father almost dead, Merry travels with Lans, Vira-we and Whyn to the Refuge of Ammon. Whyn is making a concerted effort to understand Merry and help her through pain.

 

“You’ve never had a hug from a friend?”

I looked away. “I’ve never had a friend.”

“Maybe because you’re always making that face.”

I turned to glare at him. “What?”

“You go all cold and angry. Your eyes are saying ‘stay away from me’. You don’t do it to Lans or Vira, but almost every time you talk to me you look like that.”

I blinked. No one had ever said anything about my mask before. No one had ever realized that it was a mask, that there was a real person underneath.

“Look, you don’t have to tell me anything. I know I haven’t been all that nice to you so far, but I’m trying to do better. I thought maybe you were sad, so I tried to make you feel better, but now you look like you want to bite my head off. What did I do?”

“You didn’t do anything,” I said. I wouldn’t have responded at all, but I was worried about the fragility of our new relationship. We’d been getting along, and it looked like I would be the one to ruin it if I didn’t at least try to explain. “The face… it’s a defense.”

“Against what?”

“Against pity.”

“You don’t want pity?”

“No,” I said, wishing I was in my chair so I could run him over with it. “Would you?”

“I guess not.”

“Just because I can’t walk anymore doesn’t mean I’m useless.”

“I don’t think you’re useless.”

“Well, a lot of people do. I can’t go anywhere without someone staring, or telling their children to feel sorry for me, or something. I want to keep people from coming up and saying stupid things, like asking if I need help.”

“Wait,” he said and shook his head a little. “You’re angry because people want to help you?”

“No, that’s not-” I took a deep breath and thought about how to explain the rage. “I’m angry I need help. I shouldn’t need it. I should be able to do everything by myself, like everyone else in the world.”

He cocked his head to one side, and the corner of his mouth turned up. “You know that’s kind of silly,” he said.

My jaw dropped, and I stared at him. I’d never told anyone about the anger before, and when I finally did, he laughed at me?

He looked over and saw my face. “No, wait, hear me out. I’m saying it’s silly to be ashamed to ask for help. No one can do everything. I’m shorter than most men.” His ears turned pink. Funny, I’d never thought of that shade of red as endearing before. “I can’t always reach the books on the top shelf of the library, so I have to ask Lans to get them for me. I don’t particularly like it, but it’s who I am; I’m not ashamed of it.”

“I bet Lans has never had to ask for help in his life,” I said, crossing my arms, but I was surprised when Whyn actually laughed.

“You wouldn’t win any money with that gamble. Lans can’t read Valerian.”

I raised an eyebrow. “But he speaks it so well.”

“Speaks it yes, but he’s been too busy to learn to read and write it. He’s not ashamed of it, but if we get a missive or have to send one, he gets Vira-we or me to do it.”

“Oh.” Big strong Lans had to ask for help? It made my concerns seem a little ridiculous.

“So, let me see if I have this straight,” Whyn continued. “You don’t want to have to ask for help, and you don’t like change.”

I pursed my lips. I should have known Lans would blab to his partners.

“Basically, you hate feeling out of control. But it sounds to me like your problem-” He made a vague gesture at my legs. “Is controlling you.”

“What?”

“Well, you’re letting it get the better of you. If it’s always making you worried or angry, then it’s the one in control of the situation… hypothetically speaking. If you let it go, accept there are some things you’ll always need help with, then you can concentrate on the things you can do, the things that make you happy and feel in control.”

I let out the breath I’d been holding. Through most of the conversation I’d wanted to hit him with something, but now I took a moment to think about what he was saying. Maybe the reason I was so miserable all the time was because I was only thinking about the things I couldn’t do. His reasoning made sense and struck a chord within me.

There was still a piece of me that was resentful. I didn’t want him thinking he knew everything and could fix the problem just like that, but maybe his idea was valid.

“Perhaps…perhaps you’re right. But you do realize that’s not something that’s going to happen overnight.”

“Of course not. It’s a decision you’re going to have to make, probably every day for the rest of your life. I imagine it’ll be really hard, but it might be worth it.”

Could it be? By doing it my way, I spent most of the time angry and miserable. So much so I didn’t want to be called Merry anymore. Did I want to be miserable for the rest of my life? Well, the answer to that was easy. No, I didn’t.

 

I had this conversation with my husband maybe two years after my injury. His words seemed harsh at the time. I was letting my injury control me? I finally realized he was telling me I had a choice. I could choose to focus on the things that made me miserable. Or I could move on and find joy in the things I can do, the things I’m good at. It’s a thought that changed the way I look at my injury, the way I look at life.

The choice may be easy but the practical application is a lot more difficult. Like Whyn says, it’s a choice that has to be made every day. I was ready to accept the difficulty. But is Merry?

 

As always, comments and criticisms are appreciated. What did you think? What did you like, what did you dislike? Did I accomplish what I set out to do?

AE: Familiar Struggles                                                      AE: A Risky Kind of Fun

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Not a Damsel in Distress

Girl Stolen by April Henry

Griffin just wants to steal a few Christmas presents and pawn them for some quick money to get his dad off his case, but when he sees a brand new SUV with the keys hanging invitingly from the ignition, he’s sure his luck’s finally changed. Snatching the car is a breeze. He doesn’t realize that he’s also snatching a girl.

Huddled under a blanket in the backseat, Cheyenne plots her escape. But how can she run when she’s blind? And what happens when her kidnapper becomes her protector?

 

I think I read this book in one sitting. It’s short, to the point, and easy to read, but it’s also packed with emotion, great characters, and great plot. I loved Cheyenne who right off the bat is working out how to use her weaknesses as her strengths. Yes, she’s scared, she’s blind, and she has a severe case of pneumonia, but that doesn’t stop her from luring her captors into underestimating her. She’s not a damsel in distress, waiting for her prince (or her father) to come bash the bad guy over the head. She does her own bashing, thank you very much.

There appears to be an art to portraying characters with disabilities well. I’m defining well as believable and intriguing, where the disability adds something to the story rather than taking something away, like just cutting out sight or the ability to walk. I’m thinking the key is in the details. It’s the details that make an impairment real. Details like Cheyenne orienting herself by sound, or how she explains the little difficulties of eating. They meld together over the course of a book to create a superb image and character in our minds.

And it wasn’t just Cheyenne. I loved how real Griffin’s reactions to her were. Forgetting to point out steps and asking if he can use the word ‘see’ around her. It was a great mix of experiencing how someone lives with a disability and how those around them respond.

I was also really drawn into Cheyenne’s emotional journey. It was taking place in flashbacks, not in the present story, yet it felt so real and immediate. Her initial reaction to her blindness seemed like a fairly typical response, especially for a teenager, but again, it was the details that really pulled her out of cliché and gave her life. She mentioned that she hoped when people saw her they’d think she was normal. She hid her cane under her seat so they wouldn’t see her disability. I used to do that. Play a little game in my head. If I put my crutches over here, and stand like this, and avoid walking, maybe I’ll look normal. Parallels like that aren’t necessary for me to like a character, but I’ll tell you, they don’t hurt.

Oh, and she has a service dog! I was disappointed he was absent for most of the book, but I got my fix through flashbacks and interior monologue. Dogs are always awesome. Always. Period.

One of the things that made this such a page turner was the blurred line between good guy and bad guy. A little gray can be a great thing. In this case Griffin is more of an accidental villain. He makes a mistake and it just keeps getting worse and worse. We feel bad for him, and by the end of the book, we’re rooting for him. What a great turn around.

All in all, a great book. I felt like it could have been longer and deeper but that’s probably because I was enjoying it so much that I wanted more. Usually a good thing. This is going on my recommended list.

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Accessible Excerpts: Familiar Struggles

This is an excerpt from my novel, By Wingéd Chair, one in a series of posts in which I try to show how I use disabilities in my writing. Click here for my intro to the series.

Merry and her rescuers are a day away from her home.

 

Lans came and sat on his heels beside me while I finished tying back my hair.

“Merry,” he said, his eyes serious. “I have to ask you a question you’re not going to like.”

I wrinkled my nose. “That’s not a very nice way to say good morning.”

“No, but it’s necessary. Merry, is everything all right at home?”

I raised an eyebrow. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I mean, does your father…does he hurt you?”

My jaw dropped, and I snapped it shut as soon as I realized I must look like the catfish Papa brought home on summer days. I started to answer, but Lans went on.

“Because if he does, you don’t have to go back to him. You could come to the Refuge, and the abbot would protect you.”

I shook my head. “That’s not- Why would you think that?”

He looked at me out of the corner of his eye, and I was struck with the thought that I’d never seen him uncomfortable before. He was uncomfortable now. “We were worried you didn’t want to go home. You’ve cried yourself to sleep every night you’ve been with us.”

Heat flooded my cheeks and my teeth clenched. Damn. I hadn’t been expecting that. What was wrong with him? Why would he even bring something like that up? I gathered my anger around me like armor.

“I don’t see how that’s any of your business,” I said.

Lans shrugged. “Maybe it’s not, but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t bringing you back to someone who might have hurt you.”

My shoulders relaxed, and I let the defensiveness slip from my face. “Papa would never hurt me,” I said. “We’re all each other has. I’ve missed him this past year.”

Lans finally smiled. “Sounds like I was dead wrong then. I’m all right with that. So you’re looking forward to returning home?”

“Of course. I worry about him when I’m gone. He’s a bit of a genius, and sometimes he gets so carried away he forgets to take care of himself.”

“You said he studies the Vachryn. Is he a mage then?”

“Mage, engineer. He even dabbles in invention. He built my chair.”

“Really?”

“After my accident, the doctors said I would never be able to leave my bed again. Papa didn’t think that was acceptable so he came up with ways to help me move around by myself. He put wheels on Mama’s favorite chair and took all the rugs out of the house. He built ramps over short flights of stairs and a magical box that carries me up to the second floor. He was my only reason to keep living, and he made living possible.”

“Obviously he loves you very much. So why do you cry?”

My eyes narrowed, but he didn’t look away, seeing through every wall and barrier I tried to put up. I’d hoped I had distracted him, but he wasn’t going to let this go. And I’d thought Whyn was insufferable.

I crossed my arms over my chest and looked away. “I don’t like change,” I said. “I don’t like not knowing what the day is going to bring, how I’m going to get around.”

“What’s changed?”

“Look around. Does this look like Benevere? Or like a baronet’s manor? Those are the only two places I’ve ever been. I know how life works there. Not here. This,” I gestured to the trees and the wilderness surrounding us. “This is scary.”

It was really only one of the reasons I cried myself to sleep every night, but I didn’t have to tell him everything.

“So you like to know what’s coming,” Lans said. “That’s easy enough to understand, and it’s easy enough to work with. Here’s what’s going to happen over the next two days. Today we’ll ride. If we’re attacked again, we’ll protect you. If you need help, we’ll provide it, no questions asked. Tomorrow, we’ll reach your home, and you’ll be back where you feel comfortable. How’s that sound?”

I blinked. “That sounds…uh…fine.”

He patted my hand and left just as Vira-we came back into camp.

Was it really that easy? No, but it certainly made it easier to think of things that way. I had an escort. I had help if I needed it. And I’d be home tomorrow.

 

I believe I’ve mentioned I’m a worrier. I could be out on a nice date with my husband, and instead of thinking about the food or the company, I’m worrying about how I’ll stand up or how I’ll navigate the crowded room to get to the bathroom. New places and experiences are stressful until I’ve worked through every possible difficulty or outcome in my head. Having someone there who knows how I operate and who knows exactly how to offer the help I’m so loath to accept makes the anxiety more manageable. Josh (and select friends and family) provide this function for me. Lans provides it for Merry.

Merry has a hard time putting it into words since this is the first time she’s had to admit it to anyone, but she isn’t just afraid of change. She’s afraid of the unknown, she’s afraid of losing her hard won control. Merry’s reasons are unique, but who hasn’t been afraid of these things at one point or another. At every turn I’m surprised by just how familiar her struggles are despite her differences.

 

As always, comments and criticisms are appreciated. What did you think? What did you like, what did you dislike? Did I accomplish what I set out to do?

AE: A Gentleman’s View                                                            AE: A Choice

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A Month of Nuts

Two Thursdays from now is November 1st, meaning Nanowrimo is less than two weeks away. Aah! For those who don’t know, Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel (really more of a novella) during the thirty days of November. That’s 1667 words a day or approximately six double spaced pages. If you hit 50,000 words by the end of the month, you win! Your prize: the right to say “I’ve written a novel”.

I know it sounds daunting – 1600 words a day? Are you nuts? Well, yes, some of us are a little nuts when November rolls around. But you can be nuts too. What about that idea you’ve had burning a hole in the back of your head for year? Maybe it’s about time you go it on paper. Even if you have no idea what to write about, you’ve just always wanted to write a book, this is a great opportunity to get started.

And you won’t be alone. With over 300,000 writers participating around the world, you have a great support network and a community to cheer you on. You can check out nano activity in your region and join other local wrimos for write-ins. Once or twice a week you’ll get pep talks from other writers and published authors.

If you’re still in school and 50,000 words really is too much, there’s the Young Writers Program designed specifically for kids who want to write a book. They can participate individually or with their class and they set their own word count goals.

Thinking about jumping on the band wagon? Here are some tips to help you get started.

  • Get in the habit of writing every day now. You’ve still got a little less than two weeks. If you get used to writing just a few paragraphs a day, it’ll make those 1600 words seem a lot less daunting come November.
  • You can’t start writing the book until Nov 1st, but you can do as much planning as you like. You can jot down ideas, figure out major plot points, you can have the whole story outlined in color-coded marker if you want. I’m a pantser (I write by the seat of my pants). I go into Nanowrimo with very little structure. But even I benefit from doing a little research and getting the big stepping stones figured out before setting pen to paper.
  • Don’t edit as you go. The whole point of this is quantity, not quality. You’re trying to see what happens when you just let go. This is going to drive you nuts, guaranteed, but you have to ignore the little voice wailing in your head, otherwise you’ll never hit 50,000.
  • You’re going to get stuck. It’s a fact of life. The key is not to panic. Find some tips for writer’s block – here’s a couple to get you started. And if you’re really hurting, there are some tricks of the trade. Like adding something unexpected. How about a flying purple ninja. You can play with your character’s reaction for a couple pages until you get back on track. Who knows maybe the flying purple ninja will end up saving the day.

So, who’s going to join me on this crazy endeavor? If you need a writing buddy, look me up on Nanowrimo’s website. I’m kendramerritt85 and I’d love to see you there. I’m still on a fairytale kick. Last year was Beauty and the Beast. This year it’s going to be The Robber Bridegroom/The Singing Bone. Well? What’s yours going to be about?

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Accessible Excerpts: A Gentleman’s View

This is an excerpt from my novel, By Wingéd Chair, one in a series of posts in which I try to show how I use disabilities in my writing. Click here for my intro to the series.

Whyn takes a moment to assess Merry and her place with him and his partners.

 

A stab of impatience shot through Whyn. He glared at the dark shape of the chair which was causing him so much misery. The thing was such a strange shape. The seat itself and the cushion looked like an arm chair that wouldn’t be out of place in his mother’s parlor or beside the fire in his father’s study. But instead of legs, there was a pair of large wheels attached to an axle and a smaller pair of wheels in the front to keep the chair balanced. Merry’s feet would rest on a plate that stretched between the front wheels.

He heard blankets stirring and looked over to see Merry had finally woken up. After everyone else had already started the day. Patience, he told himself. It was only just now dawn, and she couldn’t possibly be used to the hours he and his partners kept.

She pushed herself up to a sitting position and rearranged her legs so she could be comfortable. He studied her movements. It wasn’t just that she couldn’t walk. Even sitting on the ground looked hard, since she couldn’t use her legs for balance, and she had to move them with her hands to get situated.

When she had propped herself up, she ran her fingers through her hair and uttered a cry of dismay. She pulled out the ribbon that held it and fumbled her brush out of her belongings. A smile tugged at Whyn’s lips. The curls tumbled around her face in complete disarray. His sisters had looked much the same after waking up in the morning. Toryn had never let anyone see her before she had fixed her hair.

The sudden memory caught him off guard, and he grimaced at the pain it caused.

Of course, that was when Merry turned around and realized he’d been watching her. She gasped in indignation and whirled away from him again.

He swallowed hard and had to look away. Her dark hair was shiny from her furious brushing, and the early morning sun picked out streaks of auburn in it. If she was just a little shorter, he could have been looking at Gisa and not Merry.

When he gathered his courage to face her again, she had tied her loose curls back in a braid and was pulling her chair closer. His brow furrowed and he wondered what she was doing as she grabbed the seat in one hand and the armrest with the other. With a tremendous heave, she pulled her torso up and across the seat, but he could see it was going to be hard to complete the maneuver.

“May I help you, Miss Janson?” The thought hadn’t even formed before the words left his mouth.

“No,” she said, gasping for breath. “I can do it myself.” She glared at him over her shoulder.

Humph, he thought. I was just trying to be nice. He scowled as he watched her. He didn’t think it was possible, but after a lot of work, she did manage to pull herself all the way up until she could plop back into the seat. She was sweaty and panting, but when she looked at him, he saw her nose go higher in the air as if saying ‘see, I told you I could do it’. He tipped his hat to her, giving her a sour grin, and left to find Vira-we and Lans.

 

This is the first time we’ve had the chance to see Merry from another character’s point of view. I really like first person. I like the fact that the reader sits in Merry’s head, hearing her thoughts, seeing what she’s feeling, but I also wanted to compare how she sees herself with how her companions see her.

So Whyn takes a minute to watch her, study her movements, and I’m hoping that we get a better sense of him through his observations. His impatience comes from his own hurt, not revulsion or prejudice, and even in the midst of his pain, he is still a gentleman.

Unfortunately, the only thing Merry hates worse than having to ask for help, is having it offered when she really doesn’t need it. Maybe something she needs to work on.

 

As always, comments and criticisms are appreciated. What did you think? What did you like, what did you dislike? Did I accomplish what I set out to do?

AE: Blinders                                                                             AE: Familiar Struggles

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Kendra Does The Next Big Thing

I was going through my Google Reader last week and found an awesome surprise on my friend Becca’s blog. She tagged me for “The Next Big Thing”, and I’ve been having fun hopping around and reading about what everyone’s working on.

Since you guys have heard plenty about By Wingéd Chair already, I figured I’d give you a look at a brand new project. So new it’s not even on my WIP page yet. Save your gasps of awe till the end, please. The rules for “The Next Big Thing” are simple: answer a few questions about your book and tag more people who write, whose current WIPs you want to hear more about!

What is the working title of your book?

Right now I’m calling it The Robber Bridegroom because that’s the fairytale it’s loosely following (that and The Singing Bone, but it can’t have two titles). Not terribly exciting, I know, but titles are tricky things for me. Sometimes they’re the first thing I know about the story, but most of the time they don’t show up until I’m halfway through the book (Skin Deep didn’t show up until the last line, obstinate little bugger). At least The Robber Bridegroom is better than Magic Cop which was the file name for years.

Where did the idea come from?

Usually it’s easier for me to pinpoint the idea that spawns a whole book, whether it’s a scene like Blue Fire, or a concept like Catching Cinders. But this one is more of a patchwork of different thoughts and feelings, and it’s actually a really old idea. It’s been sitting in my futures notebook for several years waiting for a story to go with it. I wanted to write about a world where magic and technology have evolved side by side through an industrial revolution resulting in a setting that looks very similar to New York or London in the year 1900. A certain important plot element and its accompanying feelings came from a dream, one of those where I wake up scrambling for a pen. And some of the tone and themes were inspired by Boondock Saints.

What genre does your book fall under?

Young Adult Fantasy with kind of a thriller vibe

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I’d really rather there was never a movie version. Sorry. I write novels, not screenplays.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

A seventeen-year-old cop with OCD must reconnect with her vigilante father in order to catch a serial killer. What do you think? Is this any good? I think it sounds a little generic, and I can’t figure out how to fit the magic in without making it too long.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Kind of a cart and horse thing considering the stage of the project, but I’m nothing if not goal-oriented. I’d really like an agent and a publisher. I’m good at the writing stuff, but the legal and marketing stuff? Yeah, not so much. By Wingéd Chair is currently on submission to the first batch of agents, so we’ll see what comes.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Um…wait. It’s supposed to be done? Heheh. This is my newest project, and I haven’t actually started writing it yet, just getting it all in order. Lots more research than any of my others so far. But if it follows the normal patterns then I’ll get most of it (at least 50,000 words) on paper this November for Nanowrimo, and then I’ll spend the next two or three months hemming and hawing before I write down the end. I’m not sure why but this always happens.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Hmm. I hadn’t actually thought about this yet. I’m going to go with Tamora Pierce’s Terrier (because of the cop element and because Tamora Pierce is probably my deepest influence) and Maria V. Snyder’s Poison Study (because there are some lovely secrets and horrible pasts to conceal and discover and Snyder pulled this off with gut-wrenching style).

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Same thing as the rest in the Valeria series. I feel a need to read (and consequently to write) about unlikely heroes, characters who don’t fit the mold yet who still reach out and touch something in all of us.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

This is my first novel to feature a character with a disability entirely different from my own. Aschen, Merry, and Anwen all have trouble walking. Kallan has what we would recognize as OCD. So not only does she have to overcome a questionable past and a manipulative (and slightly psychotic) father, she also has to work around obsessions and compulsions that continually screw up her attempt to straighten out her life. The prospect of writing Kallan is both exciting and terrifying. I can’t wait to meet her.

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Accessible Excerpts: Blinders

This is an excerpt from my novel, By Wingéd Chair, one in a series of posts in which I try to show how I use disabilities in my writing. Click here for my intro to the series.

This passage comes directly after last week’s excerpt. Merry is still getting used to traveling with Lans, Vira-we, and Whyn.

 

I tried to ignore Whyn and wheeled myself closer to Vira-we’s pile of blankets. From there I could lean down and tumble off the chair and onto the ground. Down was easy. Getting back up, however, was going to be the problem.

I suppressed a grimace when I realized I’d have to sleep in my damp clothes. Ick.

Before I rolled over, I caught Whyn’s pained expression out of the corner of my eye. I turned my back on him and curled up as small as I could. What was with him, anyway? When I tried to talk to him, he was downright mean, and he kept giving me these funny looks, like the mere sight of me gave him indigestion. I couldn’t help it if I made people uncomfortable, but I wished they would keep their awkwardness to themselves. It wasn’t my job to always smooth things over.

His contempt was excruciating. Whyn was the mage. His good opinion meant so much to me, even though I’d just met him. I’d spent most of my life learning every spell anyone could teach me. But if Whyn was so disgusted by me, what would the mages at the University think?

What did it matter? I hated him. I hated them all.

I waited until the others had settled for the night and Vira-we’s breathing was slow and steady behind me, before I let the tears trickle down my face. It was easy to sob without noise. I’d had a lot of practice, after all.

 

Ooo, lots of goodies in this passage. Something I’ve noticed about Merry this early in the story is how self-absorbed she is in her misery. She’s frustrated and she’s bitter, and right now, it’s easier for her to continue on that way, so she does. Whyn has his own issues and reasons for those “funny looks”, but to Merry, they are clearly about her. She and Whyn clash so spectacularly and misunderstand so much about each other. Neither of them is blameless, but they’re each going to have to move past their own problems in order to see the rest of the world.

Pain can give us blinders so all we see is our own suffering. It can also give us an insight into the suffering of others. I know that when I’m hurting I tend to only see myself, and I have to make a conscious effort to move away from that self-absorption and see that my pain is not only not the most important thing going on, it’s not even a drop in the bucket compared to the pain of those around me. I hope that in the future I can remember that.

 

As always, comments and criticisms are appreciated. What did you think? What did you like, what did you dislike? Did I accomplish what I set out to do?

AE: Some Essentials                                                          AE: A Gentleman’s View

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Bow Chicka

Recently, I was reading an article about JK Rowling, and I came across a quote that made me laugh and die a little inside at the same time. I decided I couldn’t leave this rather shallow and idealistic view of fantasy without a rebuttal. Rowling probably isn’t looking for an amateur writer’s opinion, so y’all get to listen to it instead.

Rowling was talking about her upcoming release, The Casual Vacancy, a contemporary adult novel, and how she was excited to branch out from the fantasy genre. I guess because she felt restricted. “There are certain things you just don’t do in fantasy,” she said. “You don’t have sex near unicorns. It’s an ironclad rule. It’s tacky.” Maybe I’m taking this the wrong way, but to me, she’s saying sex has no place in fantasy. Really? I’m sure Jacqueline Carey, Anne Bishop, and Marion Zimmer Bradley would love to hear about this rule they’ve obviously overlooked for the last fifty years or so.

I don’t know what rulebook Rowling is reading, but I’ve never felt like sex is taboo in fantasy. In fact, in my experience, it’s a genre where the boundaries can be tested and the envelope pushed without the social mores of the real world getting in the way. I’m talking about books like Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels series where magic is not so subtly bound up in sex and gender roles. Or Anthony and Lackey’s If I Pay Thee Not in Gold with a character who’s an incubus until the act of sex transforms him into a succubus. Or there’s Valen in Carol Berg’s Lighthouse duet who is addicted to a drug that converts pain into pleasure (not always in the context of sex, but it’s a good example of the envelope I’m talking about). There’s even a subgenre of erotic fantasy now, as illustrated by Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart.

Wow, from this angle my shelves look positively pornographic. Even if Rowling is talking specifically about the genre of the Harry Potter books, middle grade and young adult fantasy, her claim doesn’t make sense. Middle grade books probably shouldn’t have sex in them whatever their genre. However, plenty of young adult books, both fantasy and contemporary, deal with adult issues. Look at Tamora Pierce’s In the Hands of the Goddess and Simone Elkeles’s Perfect Chemistry. I don’t necessarily think that teenage characters should have sex, but that’s another issue entirely.

Fantasy is by definition fantastic. Full of magic, fairies, wizards, other worlds, whatever floats your boat. But it still has to be grounded in reality. We need anchor points, things we can relate to, otherwise we drift through the story without letting it really touch us. The themes, the morals, the emotions we’re supposed to be feeling sail right overhead because we can’t imagine how it applies to us. I’m not saying sex is required to make fantasy realistic. I’m saying that sex is real. It should be utilized as all other tools and plot elements are utilized: tastefully and appropriately, where a story calls for it.

Excluding sex seems very limiting for a genre that’s supposed to be the ultimate imagination getaway. And it’s naïve and incredibly silly to exclude it just because you think unicorns are too innocent for such worldly pursuits. So tell me, where do baby unicorns come from? And if unicorns are perceptive enough to tell the virgins from the deflowered, doesn’t that mean they’re well aware of sex and all its accompanying drama, if only to choose those who haven’t been touched by it?

I feel like Rowling hasn’t read very much at all in the genre she dominated for ten years. Not really a great way for an author to portray themselves. If she wanted to rectify the situation, I’d recommend she start with Mercedes Lackey’s Fortune’s Fool from the Five Hundred Kingdoms series where unicorns and sex share space in a single scene. The effect is hilarious and not at all tacky. Or even kinky.

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Accessible Excerpts: Some Essentials

This is an excerpt from my novel, By Wingéd Chair, one in a series of posts in which I try to show how I use disabilities in my writing. Click here for my intro to the series.

There are two scenes here. The first takes place after Merry has decided to travel with her rescuers and the second is that same day just a few hours down the road.

 

With surprising gentleness, Lans slipped his hands under my legs and behind my back and lifted me into the air. I stifled a gasp. I’d been lifted by many men: the servants at my father’s house, the servants at the school. They had all grunted and hoisted me like a sack of flour. None had lifted me with the ease of immense strength, nor to the height of a tree branch. Lans’s arms closed around me, and I felt like a knight as he sat atop his warhorse. Safe, untouchable.

 

I looked around at the clearing with trepidation. I don’t know why I expected a hotel. These didn’t seem like the kind of people who would bother with a hotel. But I’d never spent the night outdoors. It hadn’t even occurred to me that we might.

I could do this. Everyone else in the world did, why couldn’t I?

The three of them set about making camp with an ease that made me realize they’d been together a long time. Lans erected a canvas tarp so we wouldn’t have to sleep in the rain, while Vira-we laid out their bedrolls, and Whyn built the fire

After dinner, I decided I’d put some things off for long enough, and no matter how embarrassing it was, I needed to take care of them. I inched my chair a little closer to the other woman in our party.

“Vira-we,” I whispered. “Could you help- I mean, I have to go- I mean, I know there’s no water closet, but…” My face burned as I stuttered to a stop.

I didn’t have to say any more. Vira-we smiled and stood up. “Of course. We’ll be back in a minute, boys.”

She helped me push my chair through the underbrush until we were out of sight of the camp. It wasn’t at all what I was used to, but Vira-we and I seemed to manage all right.

 

I’ve included the first excerpt because I feel I should explain something. Eventually Merry is carried by all three of her companions. However, I want to point out that this only works because all three are warriors. They have the strength to pull this off. Even Whyn, the scholar, has spent the last two years running around the woods doing his share of the manual labor. Just wanted to say that I recognize carrying around over a hundred pounds of dead weight is a little implausible for most people. You’ll notice even Lans, Vira, and Whyn can only carry Merry short distances. Not really an important point, I know, but one that comes from personal experience.

As for the second excerpt… I’m a worrier. I obsess over little things sometimes. And I’ll admit that every time we’re in the mountains I’ve worried about the bathroom situation. I don’t believe every author who writes about characters with disabilities needs to tell us exactly how they go to the bathroom (seriously, it’s not that complicated, use your imagination), but I did want to show that I had given thought to the fact that victorian-ish era + wilderness + wheelchair = headscratch. Details aren’t required but I’m thinking Merry and Vira found a log that would work nicely. Also I think this shows some growth for Merry who has a very hard time asking for help even with essentials.

 

As always, comments and criticisms are appreciated. What did you think? What did you like, what did you dislike? Did I accomplish what I set out to do?

AE: Emotional Baggage                                                                         AE: Blinders

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