Monthly Archives: November 2013

Our Impact

Tru ConfessionsTru Confessions by Janet Tashjian

When I read a really short book, I don’t feel like I’ve gotten to know the characters well enough to review them. That happened with Tru Confessions. I only spent about an hour and a half of my life with Tru, so I didn’t connect with her the same way I would have with a character I’d spent a week with. But I’m going to try to talk about her anyway, because she’s pretty cool and deserves a special look.

 

Tru wants two things in life: to find a cure for her brother and to host her own TV show. When a local cable channel announces a contest for teens, Tru sees a way she can maybe get both.

Tru’s brother Eddie is developmentally delayed due to asphyxia during birth. But this isn’t his story. It’s Tru’s. We see her move from her longing and a desperate search for a way to make Eddie ‘normal’, to acceptance of who her brother is and will remain. There is never any lack of love, but over time Tru realizes it’s okay if she grows up while her brother doesn’t.

One of the things I really liked about this book was Tru’s voice. She’s snarky and funny while at the same time being painfully honest. Congrats to Tashjian. I’m not sure she could have dealt with these hard issues for young readers in a better way. Tru lays out her guilt over Eddie’s condition, her desire to fit in, and her secret shame, and we move through them with her, coming out the other side in a better place.

This blog normally deals with disabilities from a first person view, whether through fiction or real life. But I think it’s really important to bring in perspective from those who live with disabilities without actually having them. In our own pain or self-righteousness it’s easy to forget that our struggles impact those we love.

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Nano Update

So, I’m deep in the third week of Nanowrimo, and with 20,000+ words still to go, the creative juices are spread thin (how’s that for a mixed metaphor?). I figured for today, I would share some of the diamonds that have appeared in the rough draft (get it? get it? oh my gosh, I’m so tired). The book I’m working on is called TALON Force for now and it’s about a fourteen year old hacker who is recruited into a covert government agency that protects magical creatures called phenomenals.

Enjoy.

                                                                                                                            

His mom looked up and squinted at him. “Don’t forget school starts tomorrow. Lights out by 11:30, okay?”

Nate’s stomach flipped. How could he forget? After five years of learning physics and calculus around this very table, he’d be headed to the local high school for ninth grade. But that’s what happened when your dad agreed to more hours with the Bureau and your mom was offered a position in the lab of her dreams.

“We’ve talked about it, I know,” she said. “But it bears repeating. No working outside the curriculum. If you’re bored, read the next chapter or something.”

“No reprogramming the computers,” his dad added.

Nate opened his mouth to protest but his dad waved an S tile at him. “Not even to make them more efficient,” he said.

Nate snapped his mouth closed and scowled.

“And no building killer robots,” Jessie put in with a smirk.

“That wasn’t my fault. If Vince Price hadn’t messed with my power regulator everything would have worked fine.”

“Tell that to Mr. Holland.”

“How is he?” his mother asked.

“I hear his therapy is coming along really well,” Jessie said.

                                                                                                                              

“Dr. Demarco, Mr. Demarco, your son has seen too much,” the man said.

Nate gulped. “You mean they’re real?” he said.

“What’s real?” his dad asked.

The men glared and Nate snapped his mouth shut.

His mom sighed. “We said no more hacking, Nate. You promised.”

He hung his head. Jessie had her elbows propped on the table and she was watching intently.

“So what are you going to do with him?” his mom said. “Hard labor? The gallows?”

The men eyed her sideways and one of them said, “He has two choices. The first is a maximum security facility designed to hold people like him where he will be locked away unharmed and he can never tell anyone what he’s seen.”

His mom raised an eyebrow. “Sounds cozy.”

“Mom,” Nate said. Even when things were dire she couldn’t help cracking jokes. It was embarrassing.

“Just be sure to feed him his vegetables.”

Nate really really didn’t want to go to prison. Especially one without computers or the Internet or Teen Titans. “What’s the other option?” he said.

One of the men crossed his arms and looked down at Nate who still sat at the dining room table, limp green salad pieces littering his plate and the floor under his chair.

“Join the agency that was created to protect and conceal what you saw.”

“Protect?”

“Yes, of course.”

“I’d be working with them? Like up close?”

The man inclined his head.

“But that’s, I mean they’re—” He looked at his interested family and rephrased what he was about to say. “Is that safe?”

“You could always choose the other option,” one of the men said. He looked kind of hopeful. Like he really wanted to lock Nate away in a little room with no Internet. “It is safer, as you say.”

Working with monsters? Real life ones? Nate had always thought it would be cool to get a job with a game developer programming the creatures he fought in video games but this was entirely different. He’d be coming face to face with them, maybe fighting them. No, the guy had said protecting. But that girl in the video had definitely been fighting that snake lizard that looked just like the one in Slayer.

The corners of Nate’s mouth started to lift as he thought about it. He’d be a slayer in real life. Maybe he’d even get a sword.

“Well?” his mom said. “What’ll it be?”

Nate grinned up at them. “I, uh, choose the not jail thing.”

“Really?” the one man said looking disappointed. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I choose the agency.”

                                                                                                                                 

He realized he was sitting in water up to his waist, no big deal, but the hands were still clutching at him. He dug his own hands into the bottom of the bay and hung on so whatever had him couldn’t drag him any further.

The hands surfaced, long delicate fingers clinging to his jacket. They were attached to slim pale arms. A head covered in long blond hair appeared and a solid body pushed him back into the surf.

Nate found himself looking up into the most beautiful face he’d ever seen. Even Mei’s dark eyes and hair couldn’t compare to the perfect features of the girl who was lying on top of him.

Naked.

Nate flushed before he realized all the interesting parts were covered by her wet hair. Even still, he raised his hands, keeping them out to his sides where they wouldn’t touch anything by accident.

“Hi,” the girl said and smiled. Dazzlingly.

“Nate!” It was his dad who skidded to a stop beside them, pebbles showering both Nate and the girl.

Nate held up a hand. “It’s okay,” he said. At least he thought it was okay. She didn’t seem to be trying to kill him. Yet. But his encounter with the kelpie had made him wary.

“Hello,” he said.

She beamed even brighter, if that was possible, as if he’d said the nicest thing in the world.

More feet clattered on the beach behind him and he heard a gasp. He tried not to groan. Because he really needed his mom and his sister to witness his humiliation as well.

“I knew they were real,” Jessie whispered somewhere over his head. “I just knew it.”

Uh oh.

“Um,” he said to the perfect girl who now had her fingers twined in his hair. “So what are you?”

She ducked her head with a shy smile and he felt her weight shift. He saw a tail emerge behind her head. A fish tail.

Oh god, he’d found a mermaid.

“Are you a sailor?” she said.

“What?” He tried to wriggle out from under her, but apparently five feet of fish and woman weighed a lot.

“You look like a sailor,” she said and bit her lip coyly. “Will you be my sailor?”

“Nate?” his dad said again.

“Uh,” Nate said. “Give me a second. I’m not really sure what’s happening.”

“She’s a mermaid, gnat,” Jessie said with a “duh” she didn’t say but he could hear anyway. “They’re always seducing sailors to drag down into their underwater kingdom.”

The mermaid smiled again and nodded. “Wanna come?” she said.

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Did You Really Just Say That?

CrutchI guess I should start a series of these and call it “Did you really just say that?” Sometimes I feel like people don’t really think before they speak.

I was walking through the grocery store the other day when a lady stepped out in front of me with her cart. We did the awkward dance before I stepped around her. I laughed and said “Sorry, it’s hard to change directions.” It was supposed to be a joke because that’s how I relieve tension. The appropriate response would have been to laugh with me and walk away. Instead she stopped and looked like she was working up to something. So I waited politely, mentally tapping my foot because this was supposed to be a quick stop with my husband waiting outside.

Finally, she came up with, “I’m sorry. About…” She gestured to my feet and back up to my head. “It’s just so terrible.”

I said, “It’s okay,” because what the hell else am I supposed to say? I get this one a lot, this and the “When are you getting better?” This lady basically stopped me in the grocery store to tell me she felt sorry for me. At least that’s the interpretation I’m going with. I guess her gesture could have meant “It’s just so terrible you’re alive.”

I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and say it was the first one, because, you know, everyone wants to know they inspire pity in the rest of the human race. In what world is that encouraging? In what world is it accurate? My life isn’t exactly the mire of aborted dreams and hopelessness she seems to think it is. Oh, I’m just hanging in there until I die. Given how many kids (and adults, though they won’t admit it) want to play with my crutches and my wheelchair, I must have it pretty good.

And it’s funny because I get the complete opposite occasionally, too. The “you’re so inspiring” or “brave”. Now, I wonder how many people are thinking the “I’m sorry for her” while pasting the “inspiration” thing on it to make it more palatable.

Either way, I wonder if people really realize what they’re saying or if they need it played back to thm.

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Loving the Small Things

The Blade ItselfThe Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Look I’m having a really hard time writing a summary for this and it’s Nanowrimo, so give me a break and if you want to know what the book is about, go here.

 

Joe Abercrombie does not write my favorite books, but he certainly writes some of the most fascinating. I actually read this for the first time while Justin Landon was doing his re-read over at Tor.com. A happy coincidence. And it was a great way to read such a layered and complex work. I could read it for myself, draw my own conclusions and then hop over to see what Justin had to say about this or that chapter. I’m not an avidly analytical reader so I was surprised and proud to see I actually picked up on a lot of the same themes he was so excited about.

Of those themes, one of my favorites was that of heroism. Abercrombie presents us with three possible heroes: the noble swordsman – literally, not morally; the barbarian – not as popular an archetype as the swordsman but still widely recognized; and the crippled torturer – who’s not on any list as far as I can tell. With two much celebrated archetypes readily available, why would we even notice the third? Well, the swordsman is a self-obsessed bastard, and the barbarian is practical, and well, let’s be honest, just a little boring. So the one we’re drawn to is the third. And despite the fact that he tortures people for a living and all his bitching and moaning (or maybe because of it, he does it so well, after all), Glokta is surprisingly sympathetic.

I’m having a hard time cataloguing Glokta’s disabilities because they’re so creative and so many. He was once a brilliant, arrogant swordsman himself. Then he went to war. The enemy’s torturers left him a different man. Now, I usually associate torture with excruciating pain that lasts as long as it takes to get someone to say what you want them to say. But Glokta’s torturers made sure that the pain they inflicted would last for the rest of his life. He’s missing half his teeth, he barely walks, he’s got some pretty significant nerve damage, and I’m not sure what’s wrong with his back, but let’s just say it’s worse than mine.

And despite all this he is competent. That’s Glokta’s superpower and it’s what makes him one of my favorite characters written. He falls perilously close to the Curmudgeon stereotype, bitterness infusing everything he thinks and says, but he still manages to be the best at what he does. And isn’t that just a fascinating twist. He’s good at inflicting pain because he knows it so well. He hates his own pain, hates the man he is, but he’s excellent at his job, and frankly, no one else will have him, so he keeps going. He’s stuck in this wonderfully perpetual cycle of self-loathing.

Which would be horrible and depressing if not for his inner commentary. Which is hysterical and pointed and can’t be described any better than that.

And here’s the sugar coated knife Abercrombie sticks us with (as if it’s not already buried deep). Glokta is feared by all. Granted some of that is probably similar to The Princess Bride’s “Dear God, what is that thing?” reaction. But most of it is due to the position Glokta holds. This ruined man, the cripple who can’t eat solid food or get out of bed without help, holds power that makes common men tremble. We’ll have to see what he does with it in the rest of the series.

So far this book sounds truly dark, but scattered amongst the grit there are gems like this: “You have to learn to love the small things in life, like a hot bath. You have to love the small things, when you’ve nothing else.” On the surface, just as depressing as the rest, but really, this is how I live my life. This ray of hope in a genre known as grim or dark fantasy (or as Justin says, Grimdark).

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The Saint and The Curmudgeon

Blank pageThere really aren’t enough disabilities represented in fiction, especially when the ones that are there tend to fall into unflattering stereotypes. This is damaging to both abled and disabled people; those of us with disabilities are baffled and even insulted by these depictions. And those who are “normal” assume these portrayals are accurate and try to treat us like the poor souls they read about in their books. Bad news all around.

The first stereotype I see the most often is The Saint. This character has been disabled all their life. They don’t know what they’re missing so of course they can put on a brave smile and greet the world with that unique strength that comes from obliviousness. They just keep swimming, unaware of the countless millions their story inspires, amazing their readers with their ability to get out of bed in the morning and face life. You can recognize this character by the adjectives used to describe them. Words like brave, undaunted, inspiring, or my personal favorite, stoic. Watch for these characters in minor roles, quietly compelling the hero to bigger and better deeds, because if she can sit in that chair all day without complaining, well, then, gosh darn, I can save the world.

Walking hand in hand with The Saint is The Curmudgeon. This character has only been disabled a short time, a few years at most, which means they remember what it was like to run free. So their bitterness is understandable. Look at all they’ve lost. What’s the point of moving on? they moan. Their pain is cathartic because things can’t possibly get any worse for them, and we’re reminded that our lot isn’t really that bad. This character doesn’t get nice round adjectives, just a dark, foul living space and the occasional caustic remark. You can find them occupying secondary roles, providing a foil for the bright, hopeful hero, because we can’t recognize the light without the miserable reminder of what they might become.

Now, I’ve written this with tongue firmly in cheek, but the thing is, stereotypes exist for a reason. There is a grain of truth in both the Saint and the Curmudgeon. Heck, I’ve represented both in the same day before. That “just keep going” attitude and the bitterness come from very real reactions to disability. But people (all people) are so much more that the 2D façade these stereotypes perpetuate, and the same goes for characters. I want to see the crumbling worldview behind the stoic smile and the steely strength masked by the caustic comments.

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