Category Archives: Accessible Excerpts Series

Not All that Different

So last Wednesday was the last installment of the Accessible Excerpts series, bringing Merry, as a character, full circle. With this series, I wanted to show how I use disabilities in my stories to create unique yet believable characters. It’s my hope that in these protagonists you can see real life struggles and flaws, traits that help them step off the page and into your mind.

I realize that those of us with disabilities are a minority and the experiences of these characters are not necessarily universal, but I also hope that by spending so much time in their heads and finding things in their thoughts, feelings, and experiences to relate to – you can see that we’re not all that different.

It’s not my intent to ram a certain agenda down your collective throats, but I did have a purpose going into this project. I want to empower those of us who read tales about heroic feats and think, “I can’t do that”. I want to examine what it takes to be a hero – an important question whether you have a disability or not – and who it is that steps into that role. And finally I want to promote understanding. Everyone has their problems and it’s not any one person’s place to rank those, saying “Oh, my struggle is harder than your struggle”. This creates division, we become us and them, or you and me. I think this is a gap that needs to be bridged.

I hope you guys have enjoyed seeing this deeper look at Merry. I know I learned a lot more about my character than I realized when I first wrote her. And thanks for all your comments and feedback. They’ve been very encouraging. Maybe we’ll see Merry and some of her compatriots again further down the road.

AE: Full Circle

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Accessible Excerpts: Full Circle

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 companions encounter a creature who has the ability to make them relive their worst memories.

 

An invisible hand reached out and grabbed hold of my mind, dragging me deep into the darkest corners of my own thoughts.

My horse was leaping, a move I could feel was faulty even as she left the ground. She stumbled as she landed, and my foot came loose from my stirrup, my weight shifting and the edge of the gully rising to meet me as I fell.

A darkness I remembered all too well, the black behind my eyelids as I refused to wake, refused to face what I already feared might be true.

“I’m sorry, sir. I’m afraid she will never leave this bed again. You may as well get used to it now. It will make it easier in the years to come as she realizes she will never live her life as a normal person would.”

“Papa?”

“I’m here, Merry-child.” His voice was broken, and I opened my eyes to see why. His face hovered over mine, his eyes red-rimmed with pain and exhaustion.

“Papa, I can’t feel my legs.” I tried to sit up but my balance was all funny, and Papa put his hand against my shoulder to keep me from trying anything more. I fought growing panic and threw the blanket back so I could see my legs and feet. They were there, everything was where it was supposed to be, but I couldn’t feel anything below my waist.

“Papa, what’s wrong? I can’t move.” I tried. I tried harder than I’d ever tried anything in my life. The desire was there, I was doing exactly as I had the day before. The signal was leaving my mind but it was blocked. I told my toes to wiggle. They didn’t. I told my knee to bend. It remained limp against the bed linens.

“Papa!”

“I’m sorry, Merry. I’m sorry.” There were tears coursing down his cheeks. I couldn’t look at him; I could only turn my face to the wall and scream. The bed sagged as he sat beside me and gathered me into his arms. His chest heaved with his sobs, but I couldn’t tell under my own shrieks of pain.

I could feel two sharp personalities present in the back of my mind looking on in horror as I relived the moment I’d realized I would never walk again. I don’t know how I recognized Zev and Whyn. There were others there too, though less distinct.

This wasn’t anything like the memories I’d relived with Zev before. I’d never given him anything so personal or painful, and they had never been this vivid. I struggled to regain control, like I did with Zev

With a gasp I was back in my chair, feeling like I’d been thrown there, the frigid air flooding my lungs and making me cough. Zev crouched, quivering beside me, holding his head. Someone was crying, and I turned to find Lans holding a distraught Vira-we to his chest. I looked for Whyn and found him still sitting opposite me. His hands shook and his eyes were glassy, but he met my gaze.

Zev collected himself and stood, raising defiant eyes to glare at the creature who had accosted us. “You have gone too far, Elder. In attempting to prove how wrong I am, you broke a sacred trust. You had no right to take those memories from these people. You fed on their experiences without permission and for that you are no better than the Vachryn.”

“These humans do not deserve the respect we grant our own kind.”

“They are thinking, rational beings like us. Some are evil yes, but some are noble and worthy. These,” Zev said gesturing to Whyn and I. “These are mages. Like the ones we used to partner with. How dare you say they are not worthy?”

“These are the least worthy of all,” the elder said, his voice raised. “They aren’t born with the magic inside like the enchanters of old, so they steal it with cunning tricks. The enchanters would never have let their Realm fall like this. They would have weeded out pain and suffering from the human race long ago.”

Saints, the arrogance in his voice was almost tangible. I wanted to grab it and shove it down his throat. “You idiot,” I said.

“Excuse me?” His incredulous tone boomed with an intensity that willed me to back down, but I stood my ground.

“We shouldn’t inflict pain on others, and I’m sorry there are those who do so willingly. But if we avoid challenges and difficult situations just because we might experience pain how will we ever grow? Suffering tempers us. You feed on memories, experiences, life. Life is nonexistent without challenge, without pain. What you seek is only the shadow of life.”

The misty figure leaned down to look at me closer. “And would you say you are tempered by your suffering? Are you made stronger by your horrible experiences?”

“Yes,” I said and swallowed. I hadn’t admitted it to myself yet and it was wrenching to do so here with so many listening, but the truth of it swelled up through me. “I would not be who I am today if I hadn’t gone through everything that I have. I am grateful I’ve had a chance to grow and appreciate the things that have made me stronger. I pity you in your safe, comfortable existence, always running, never standing to fight and grow.”

“You pity me?” he asked, his voice rising with disbelief.

“Yes, I do,” I said. “The next time you want to dig in my memories you will ask first. Is that clear?”

 

I had a really hard time writing this scene. The first couple weeks after my injury are very blurry due to pain, drugs, and a dizzying procession of doctors and therapy. So I don’t actually have any memory of a specific moment that I became aware that I couldn’t walk anymore. Which made it excessively difficult to portray how Merry felt in her own moment of realization. I think she ended up with something like an entire year’s worth of my emotions crammed into about five minutes of story.

I wanted to bring Merry full circle with this scene. This is the moment where we see that not only has she accepted herself and her limitations, but she sees how strong she is. She can finally acknowledge how her experiences have shaped her to be who she is.

 

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: Easier Said Than Done                                                Not All that Different

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Accessible Excerpts: Easier Said Than Done

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.

After working with the Disciples of Ammon to fight the Vachryn, Merry feels more confident about herself and her abilities, but her work places her back in the situations which caused her so much trouble before, and she can feel her old mindset waiting to trip her again.

 

I smiled and accepted the thanks along with the others, but inside I was shaking. Too many people crowded me, their curious and sometimes pitying looks sending barbs into my heart. There was nothing nasty or rude behind their expressions, but it felt like I was right back at Madam Francine’s, with the girls giggling about me behind my back.

I’d thought I was done with that part of my life. The Disciples didn’t look at me with those all too familiar expressions. I’d thought I wouldn’t mind them anymore. But here I was, with the old mask creeping back across my face to hide the feelings that welled up inside.

Nothing had changed. I’d just been avoiding the realities of my life for the last couple months.

I wheeled myself out of the crowded house and into the crisp night air. I stopped at the edge of the light spilling from the windows and tilted my head back so I could see the sky.

A step behind me made me turn, and I saw Whyn coming toward me from the house.

“You left the party,” he said. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” I said, avoiding his eyes.

“No, you’re not. I saw the way you looked back there. What’s wrong? I thought things were better.”

“It’s nothing, okay? I just don’t like people.”

“You like us just fine,” he said, not letting it go. “You like most of the Disciples.”

I looked away. “They don’t act like I’m some kind of abomination.”

Whyn nodded. “We treat you the same as everyone else. They treat you like you’re different.”

“It’s not their fault,” I said, realizing I believed that. “They’re not used to seeing someone like me.”

“If you understand, then why were you so upset?”

“I can’t help it. I understand, but I still don’t like it. I don’t like who I am when I’m around other people.”

“Who are you?”

“Someone who’s always angry. I want to be mad at everyone else in the world because they can’t possibly know what I’m going through. I hate them for not understanding. I hate them for being able to do the things I can’t, but in the end I hate myself more.” Tears pricked my eyes, and I blinked hard, trying to get rid of them.

“Marion.” There was a catch in his voice that made my heart jump. He crouched in front of me so he could take my hands and look straight in my eyes. “You shouldn’t hate yourself.”

“But I do,” I said. “I shouldn’t feel that way. I know better, but I can’t help it.”

The light behind me illuminated his face. There was no pity there, only sympathy and understanding. “I think I know what you mean,” he said. “There really isn’t any kind of shouldn’t or should when it comes to feelings. They are what they are. But sometimes we can steer them in another direction. When we first met you, I concentrated on one thing, and that was finding and destroying the Vachryn. I was so single-minded I shut out everything else, including my friends and everything I’d ever enjoyed doing.

“I didn’t even realize what I was doing until Lans told me they were going to leave me at the Refuge the next time they went out hunting. My whole life had revolved around this one thing and suddenly it was taken from me. Without it I had nothing, and I realized I didn’t like what I’d become. You said I was holding onto my grief to avoid living. Called me a coward.”

I gasped. “I said no such thing.”

He smiled. “No, but that’s what I heard because that’s what I was.” He pulled something out of his pocket and looked at it for a long time. When he passed it to me, I saw it was a child’s jumping jack. The paint was worn thin and the wood was smooth, as if it was handled every day.

“That’s Gisa’s,” he said. “I gave it to her the day she died. I used to hold it when I got upset or overwhelmed. When the memories were too much, feeling it under my fingers would help calm me down. After you told me to let the wounds heal and leave grief behind, I used it to remind myself to be patient. Now every time I hold it I remember the life I’m supposed to be living and the person I want to be. It’s helped me get there. You helped me, Marion.”

I couldn’t look away from his earnest eyes, and my breath caught in my chest. His hand pressed the toy into my palm.

“Maybe it can help you now,” he said. “Any time you start feeling like you’re that person you don’t like, hold it and take a deep breath. Concentrate on it rather than the irrational reactions and when you have yourself under control, remember who you want to be.”

I didn’t know what to say. His confession and his gift had left me breathless with emotion. I didn’t want to consider the way my heart pounded against my ribs, or the way the light caught the white streaks in his eyes.

He squeezed my hand and stood. I watched as he walked back into the house, leaving me sitting in the dark holding a child’s toy.

 

I’ve had a really hard time explaining what I was feeling the first year or two after my injury, but Merry’s confession comes pretty close. It’s frightening and depressing to hate the complete stranger who opens the door for you just because he can’t possibly know what you’re going through. Maybe part of it was that I felt so isolated. I was facing something none of my friends or my family had ever had to deal with and in a strange, twisted way I felt entitled to my pain and anger. Look, I have a right to be pissy, so just back off and let me wallow. But since then, I’ve realized I’m not the only one who’s ever hated themselves for something they can’t control, whether it’s frightening emotions, mental illness, or just the shitty situations life sometimes deals out.

I don’t have any pithy advice for the people who feel like this. I don’t know what it was that helped me crawl out of the mire. It probably wasn’t any one thing but several. I do know that at some point I realized if I hated who I was, there was absolutely no reason I should keep being that person. Easier said than done, right? But it’s the first step. Knowing you have a choice. And knowing you’re not alone.

 

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: Worst Case Scenario

 

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Accessible Excerpts: Worst Case Scenario

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 companions are still on their way to the Refuge when they are attacked by bandits.

 

I’d seen the three of them in action before and figured the fight would be short. Five bandits wouldn’t even come close to a couple Vachryn, but it soon became clear these men were well trained. Maybe they were mercenaries or deserters from the royal army. Whatever they were, they worked as a team as they surrounded Lans, Vira and Whyn, attacking them on all sides.

I whipped around, wondering how I could help, and grabbed the one thing that came to hand. When the bandit in front of me came into range, I swung as hard as I could. The hot frying pan clanged against the man’s head, and our dinner went flying through the air, only half cooked. My victim screamed and stumbled against me, tipping my chair over so that I was flung to the ground.

My heart was already beating fast, but now it slammed against my ribs, as if trying to leap from my chest. Boots stomped around me, missing my fingers, and blades clashed above my head. I tried to crawl out of the way of the fighting, using my arms to pull myself along the ground. My skirt clung to the dead-weight of my legs, catching against leaves and bushes and slowing me down.

Another man stumbled into my victim, and they both fell across my overturned chair. There was a heart-rending crash, and they rolled away from the wreckage they’d caused.

I gaped at the pile of broken wood and upholstery while a wheel spun in the air at a crazy angle.

“Whyn,” Lans called, pressed hard against a tree by the bandit leader. “Get Marion! Get her away!”

Whyn grabbed his attacker’s arm as it came around to slash him and sent a bolt of energy into the other man’s body. The bandit fell down screaming, and Whyn’s eyes snapped up, searching for me. His gaze found what was left of my chair and he went white.

I cried out and he finally saw me lying in an awkward pile on the leaf mold. He dashed over and hoisted me up, hugging me to his chest, before he strode off into the trees.

As the sounds of fighting faded away, I turned my face into his shoulder and convinced myself I wasn’t going to cry. It was just a chair. It was a tool. My father was not manifest in the wonderful contraption he’d made just for me.

 

First off, I’d like to point out I wrote this scene about six years ago when I first envisioned the story that would eventually become By Wingéd Chair – way before Tangled came out.

This idea came from a couple different places. From the very beginning I wanted to see what it would be like to get a character in a wheelchair through a fight scene. She’s been in a couple conflicts so far but nothing as physical as this, and as you can see, she doesn’t make it out unscathed.

Also, with character driven fiction we like to ask the question “what’s the worst thing that could happen to this character?” For Merry, that would be losing control of her own movement, having to rely on others for even the basest necessities. She’s been doing pretty well with the anger thing, so let’s see how she reacts to this new challenge. It’s evil, I know, but a character can’t truly prevail unless there’s something to prevail over.

 

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 Risky Kind of Fun                                                     AE: Easier Said Than Done

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Accessible Excerpts: A Risky Kind of Fun

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.

On their way to the Refuge of Ammon, Merry and her companions stop to help out some villagers.

 

“Why are there wheels on your chair?”

I jerked in surprise. It was the bold little girl from before, standing beside me and frowning at my chair. “Excuse me?”

“Your chair has wheels on it. It looks funny.”

My spine stiffened and my face went blank. What an impertinent child. My first reaction was to say something sharp that would tell the girl I wasn’t interested in answering rude questions. Then I saw Whyn watching me, waiting for my response.

I took a couple deep breaths and tried to look at it from her perspective. My chair really was strange. And most invalids were confined to their homes, so she wouldn’t be able to guess what was wrong with me. Her question wasn’t rude; it was the result of someone who wanted to know the answer and wasn’t afraid to ask. Huh, kind of like me.

“It’s because my legs don’t work like yours do,” I said. “This helps me get around.”

“Oh,” she said. “Is it fun?”

“What?” Was it fun to be bound forever to a chair? My tone of surprised incredulity would have scared off a lesser child. But not her.

“Is it fun?” She pointed at my wheels. “I bet they go fast. Like the rich people’s carriages. We had a goat cart once and we got it to go really fast down hills.”

“I-I don’t know. I’ve never really thought of it as fun before.”

Whyn had a really strange look on his face. If he laughed, I was going to punch him.

“Well, come on, you should try it.” She dragged at one of my arms until I followed her. At the end of the village, the road sloped down a gentle hill, and the girl stopped at the top.

“We sled down this one in the winter. It’s not as good as Deadman’s Hill, but that’s half a day’s walk.”

I was thinking this was plenty steep enough, and we didn’t have to try anything called “Deadman”.

I cleared my throat. “What if it’s too fast?” I asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

“You steer with the wheels, right?” she said, grasping the mechanics of my chair. “You can just grab them to slow down.” She climbed up on my lap, apparently coming along for the ride.

“But once I’m down there how will I get back up the hill?”

“Easy, I’ll push you.”

I rolled my eyes at her. “Are you always this good at solving problems?”

She grinned over her shoulder. “Da says I’m either a blessing or a menace. He hasn’t decided which.”

I stared down the hill, slightly daunted by my precocious passenger. I could just imagine Whyn standing behind me with raised eyebrows. I couldn’t back down now, not with him watching. I had the fleeting hope if something went wrong, he knew a spell that would keep me from plummeting to my death. An image flashed across my mind: this stretch of road, except now it was called “Deadgirl’s Lane”.

I took what was surely my last breath and pushed myself over the crest of the hill. We picked up speed, and the wind of our passing blew my hair out behind me like a war banner. My wheels clattered, and the chair shuddered as it shot down the packed dirt of the road. My passenger flung her arms out to the sides and shrieked with laughter. I closed my eyes and hung on for dear life, longing to grab the wheels to slow down but not daring to. My gloves protected my hands, but even they wouldn’t be able to withstand this kind of friction.

We hit the bottom of the slope and rolled to a stop.

“You can open your eyes now.”

I did and was a little surprised to find myself still among the living.

“See, wasn’t that fun?”

I had to wait until I no longer felt like I was going to have a heart attack before I could answer. But then a grin plucked at my lips, and I found myself saying, “Actually, yes.” And, in a sort of death-defying way, it was. She hopped off and started pushing me back up the hill.

We were greeted by a chorus of voices. “Was it fast, Sara?”

“Faster than sledding, but bumpier,” she answered.

“All life and limbs still attached?” Whyn asked.

“Yes…”

“Why do you sound so wary?”

“Because I think I want to go again.”

 

I like to find the joy and the fun in life’s little setbacks. Every now and then there are some advantages to disability and wheelchairs are one of them. It is a risky kind of fun – I’ve learned through personal experience there’s a reason for the seatbelts on wheelchairs – but what’s the point in having wheels if you can’t fly down a few hills?

This is a big step for Merry in her emotional journey. Just being able to stand back from her pain and see how she might look to others is a huge difference. And being able to see something other than anger and bitterness in her situation shows how far she’s come.

 

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 Choice                                                                          AE: Worst Case Scenario

 

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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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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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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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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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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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