Category Archives: Accessible Excerpts Series

Accessible Excerpts: Emotional Baggage

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 a run-in with some monsters, Merry has accepted help from Lans, Vira-we and Whyn. But she and Whyn have already gotten off on the wrong foot.

“Here, mushka, I’ll lift you.”

I looked up at Lans. He was holding out his arms. “Lift me where?”

“Onto a horse. The chair has to stay here.”

I felt my stomach crawl into a knot, and I swallowed. “What? No, I need it.”

“No wagon,” Whyn reminded me from the other side of his horse.

Panic crept up my numb legs and settled below my heart. I lost control over my face, and my icy protection fell away. I shook my head. “Then I’m not coming.”

“I don’t believe this,” Whyn said.

“You can’t take my chair away.” The words were torn out of me. “I can’t move without it. I can’t even crawl.”

I’d never admitted to anyone how I felt without the bulky contrivance my father had invented for me, and I realized how close the tears were to the surface. If I didn’t calm down and get the mask in place, I’d never be able to cover up the confession I’d just made. I took a shuddering breath.

“Here, lass.” Lans handed me a clean handkerchief. He didn’t tell me not to cry, or to calm down. He didn’t utter false reassurances. He just solved the most immediate problem. I used the square of linen to dab at my damp eyes and nose. Maybe it would look like I was wiping away the rain.

“We can bring it,” Vira-we said.

I looked at the quiet tribeswoman and hoped the gratitude leaking out from under the cold defensiveness wasn’t apparent in my expression.

“Nara can drag it behind her. We Adhahi do it with our tents, and she’s trained for it.”

“We’ll go slower,” Whyn said.

“We’d already be going slower,” Lans reminded him. “Will Nara be able to carry both of you and the chair?”

Vira-we was already pulling rope from her packs. “At the pace we’ll be going? Of course. And Ax has all he can handle with you and that greatsword, so don’t even volunteer.”

I noticed how they didn’t suggest putting me with Whyn.

Vira-we started tying ropes to the strange straps on her saddle, and Lans held out his arms again. He didn’t ask if I needed help; he was just there waiting to provide what I needed. For a moment, I didn’t know how to handle that. I hated having to ask for help, and I hated when people offered it to me when I didn’t need it. But to have my needs anticipated, without drawing attention to my handicap… somehow that was better. I let a smile peek through before I covered it with my usual hostility.

 

As I go through this series, I’ve noticed it’s harder and harder to separate scenes that deal with Merry’s disability and scenes that deal with the emotional baggage that comes with her disability. To me, they’re the same. You can’t have one without the other so they’re kind of a package deal. There are plenty of places like this one where I’m not trying to get across how Merry walks (or doesn’t walk) or the specific physical problems and limitations that she encounters. I’m trying to give you a glimpse inside her thoughts, showing how her limitations have affected and even warped her thinking.

Here, Merry is confronted with the possibility of losing her chair, and the thought terrifies her. So much so that she looses control of her carefully cultivated mask. I think her reaction is perfectly natural at this point. The chair is her anchor and her freedom all in one. It’s loss would be devastating. Hmm, perhaps this is something to explore a little more later. This is also the first glimpse we have of people who can help her without making her feel inferior. I’ll just go ahead and come out with it. Lans is one of my favorite characters.

 

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: Common Experiences                                                       AE: Some Essentials

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Accessible Excerpts: Common Experiences

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 is on her way home after events in Benevere have forced her departure.

 

The train platform cleared as people ran from the weather. It was just rain. Did they think they were going to melt? I looked around our stop. The town was no more than a way-point on the train line. A few houses and a hotel were clustered around the tiny station. As if mimicking the buildings, a couple young men waiting for the train had sought shelter under the eaves of the ticket office.

One of them looked at me. He had a mop of bright gold hair and an infectious smile. I found my own lips curving upward in response. He was kind of cute. He said something to his friend before he stepped toward us. My breath caught, and I forced myself not to reach up and make sure my bonnet was straight. My heart pounded as he drew nearer…

And then stepped around me to talk to Cecily.

If my legs worked, I would have kicked myself. Why would he be looking at you, stupid? Even if I hadn’t been forced to live my life in a chair, he still would have picked her over me. She looked like a porcelain doll, one that had never been played with, with her straight blond hair and clear skin and big, limpid brown eyes. Like a cow’s.

Sitting next to her, no one would think to look at me with my messy brown hair, muddy green eyes and skin that was prone to spots.

Finally the boy’s friend dragged him away so they could dash through the torrent to board the train. I glared at him as he went by, but he didn’t seem to notice.

“He was cute,” Cecily said. “And charming, wasn’t he?”

“I wouldn’t know,” I said, lifting my chin. “I don’t pay attention to boys.”

“You will one day.” She gave me a condescending smile. “You’ll meet a boy who’s cute and charming and doesn’t care about your legs.”

My fingers clenched on the wheels of my chair. My mask would protect me. It would hide me from the good intentions of stupid people.

“Oh, do you really think so?” I said, hoping she would catch the mocking in my tone.

But Cecily was about as bright as the cow I’d compared her to. “Of course I do. There’s someone out there for everyone.”

So much for mockery. “That’s complete muck,” I said.

 

First off, who hasn’t had this happen to them? Anyone? I feel like humanity is bound by common experiences and this is one of them. You’re standing there and someone waves at you. You look around thinking, he can’t be looking at me, can he? But he is. Oh my gosh, he really is. And then you realize his friend is right behind you and now you look like a dork.

Merry’s experience has a few other implications. He couldn’t possibly be interested in her not only because she’s not as pretty as Cecily, but who would want to make eyes at a pair of wheels. And this scene proves that she’ll never receive that kind of attention from the opposite sex. Which is okay because she totally doesn’t want that kind of drama in her life. Right?

Poor Merry. I spend the rest of the book showing her she’s wrong.

 

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: Personal Space                                                                            AE: Emotional Baggage

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Accessible Excerpts: Personal Space

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 excerpt comes immediately after Masks from last week. Madam Francine has just threatened to kick Merry out of school and now Merry is on her way to the museum.

 

My wheels sank into the thick grass as I pushed myself toward the street, and I struggled to keep my drawing supplies balanced on my lap. It felt like I was wading through the underbrush of a jungle, but I pressed on like a fearless explorer. I liked the image of being a fearless explorer, even if my jungle was just a manicured lawn.

Heels clicked on the cobblestones, and I looked up to see Cecily, one of my classmates, coming back up the street.

“Oh, Merry,” she said. “Here, let me help you.” Her voice was too soft, too sweet, like an overripe apple. Without waiting for a reply, she grabbed the back of my chair and started pushing me down the long cobblestoned street. I bit my tongue before I could snap at her. I wanted to tell her I could push my chair by myself, that’s why it had wheels after all, but I didn’t want to give Madam Francine any more reasons to get rid of me. I needed that recommendation. So I ground my teeth and accepted the humiliation.

 

It’s amazing how people can be so desperate to seem helpful that they ignore things like common courtesy. This scene actually came from personal experience. I use my wheelchair at the airport, and the flight crews are usually really helpful and accommodating, giving me as much time as I need and being patient with all the weird quirks that come with using both crutches and a wheelchair. But they always offer to push me to the plane. I understand why they do, jetways can be really steep, but I’m a healthy 27 year old in a sleek manual chair, and I travel with my own 6’6” mobility assistant. I’m good, thanks.

One trip, one of the flight crew approached as we were getting ready to board. They were running late and he was obviously in a hurry to get me on the plane and settled, but he decided the best way to do this would be to grab the back of my chair – without asking, without even saying “hey, we need to get you on the plane” – and start pushing me.

This is a huge violation of personal space and just plain courtesy. When I’m using the chair, if you touch it, it’s like you’re touching me. That man figuratively put his hands all over me without asking and then took away my freedom of movement. It’s making me clench my teeth just thinking about it. Don’t do this. Ever. All right, if the person is careening down a hill into a pit of lava and stopping to ask for permission is going to result in their fiery death, then yeah sure, grab them. But a delayed flight does not equal fiery lava death. If they look like they could use some help up a hill or through a door, go ahead and offer it. They could have been waiting for a big brawny guy to come along and do just that. But don’t be insulted if they refuse. Being able to do something for oneself is really important, no matter how hard it is. If they’re the ones that ask you for help, even better. They’re in a much better place than I am.

As for the flight crew guy, both Josh and I tried to get him to take his hands off me, at first politely, and then not so politely. He insisted that it was company policy to push wheelchairs down the jetway. BS. I’ve flown a lot, on a lot of different airways, and I’ve never heard that before. But in this case, all I could do was grit my teeth and bear it.

Argh. Ok, I’m putting the soap box away now.

 

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: Masks                                                                                        AE: Common Experiences

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Accessible Excerpts: Masks

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 is the first scene of the novel where we are introduced to the main character, Miss Merry Janson.

 

Madam Francine turned to me. She was too well-bred to tap her foot, but she did put her hands on her hips. “Merry,” she said. “I think it’s time we reevaluated your place at our school.”

I crossed my arms and cocked an eyebrow at her, wondering if I was about to be sent home in disgrace. Again.

“Has my performance been unsatisfactory?” I asked. We both knew she couldn’t find anything wrong with my consistent top marks, but I wanted her to say it out loud.

“No,” she said, her eyes sliding away from mine. “Your class work is exemplary, as usual. But your…situation is unique. I’m not sure what your father was thinking when he sent you here. What is it you hope to accomplish by studying with us?”

I opened my mouth to respond, but Madam Francine liked to answer her own questions.

She continued as if I weren’t there. “Most of our girls leave here with the training to become exceptional wives and mothers. Or, if they haven’t received a proposal, they become governesses for influential families. However, I don’t see you fitting into either of those roles. You are obviously not suited for marriage, and no respectable family would hire you to teach their children.”

My face burned, and I snapped my mouth shut before I blurted out my dream. Why was I surprised? Most people thought I was useless, and I had trained myself not to let them get to me. I set my face in the cold, hostile mask I’d perfected just for stupid, cowards like Madame Francine.

“My father is paying for my education,” I said. “Not for your opinion.”

I yanked on the wheels of my chair and pushed myself out of the park, not looking to see if she followed. Saints help me, I only had to deal with Madam Francine for another month. Then I could ask her for my recommendation, and I’d be on my way to the University.

 

These few paragraphs are supposed to accomplish a lot right off the bat. I’m establishing Merry’s disability and how the people around her react to it. I’m also introducing Merry as a character and letting you see how she handles the reactions. Which is not particularly well here at the beginning.

Merry’s struggles are deeply personal for me (as if you couldn’t guess that already) but this is one I was really anxious to get on paper from the start. After my injury, the only way I knew to deal with people, to cope with the constant sympathy and encouragement (encouragement can be strangely discouraging), was to put up a mask. An expression or a personality I could wear that would hide what I was really feeling from the world. My mask was a smile and an eternal optimism I didn’t necessarily feel all the time. Merry’s is cold hostility. In some ways I think hers is a lot more honest than mine was.

 

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?

Post it Proudly                                                                                           AE: Personal Space

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Post it Proudly

I’ve been thinking about doing a series of excerpts from my novels for a while now, but the argument for whether you should post your work online or not has been raging for even longer. I want a chance to get my work out there, show you guys what I’m trying to do, and get some feedback on it, but I don’t want to ruin my chances of getting published later. So I’ve been checking out all the arguments, gathering opinions, and really thinking about what I want to accomplish with posting my work online.

The two sides of the argument are pretty well represented in the article “Stop Being Afraid of Posting Your Work Online” and its counter “Be (Slightly) Afraid of Posting Your Work Online”. Yeah, this is frustrating the heck out of me too. If you don’t want to read both of these posts, that’s fine. The first one talks about how writers benefit from posting their work online. It’s testing the market, building a platform and getting feedback that makes the book better. The latter article says that those things are all well and good, but fiction writers should be worried about other writers stealing their ideas.

I don’t know about any other writers out there, but I was really insulted by this. I am not a thief. There have been plenty of times where I’ve heard a pitch and thought (and usually said) “I’d read that”. There have even been one or two that I’ve thought, “Boy, I wish I’d come up with that first”. But it has never crossed my mind that I should steal the idea – even if I think they’re doing it wrong and I could do it better.

Besides, I have way too many good ideas of my own to waste time developing a passion for someone else’s idea (not to mention a plot and all that’s inherent in writing a book). Are there really good writers that don’t have their own projects who spend their time trolling itty bitty author blogs looking for good ideas to steal? That’s like being a world famous chef who has no kitchen and no food, so he sneaks into your house to raid your pantry and use your stove. I’m not saying there aren’t people out there who will copy something in order to avoid doing their own work – there are, it’s called plagiarism – I’m just trying to put things in perspective. And, for the record, everything posted on a personal blog is protected because it’s technically been published.

So, let’s say the evil supervillain is out there. After he’s found my brilliant idea and rubbed his hands together saying “Bwah ha ha”, he still has to write the book better than me (and I use personal experience few others have so now we’re talking about a disabled, evil supervillain). And he has to be better at snagging a publisher. Good luck with that one. I’ve heard lots of “Oh that’s a great idea” and not one “I’d love to publish that for you”. He’d also have to be faster, and since I’m in the process of shopping for an agent, that’s pretty dang fast.

I guess it’s a double edged sword. I want to get some feedback and build a readership, but I have to accept that there might be risks.

All of this is to say that I’m starting a new series of posts. Every Wednesday I’ll put up an excerpt from my current work in progress that has something to do with disabilities. I want this to be a chance to look at how disabilities are handled in fiction (especially fantasy), and if you guys have any suggestions or critique, I’m always looking for feedback to make things better. I’m not going to post the whole book, or even whole chapters or scenes. Just passages that highlight something specific that I want to point out. And Fridays will still feature my regular mix of disability topics, book reviews, and writing advice.

So I hope you guys enjoy the journey along with me as I embark on this new endeavor. Have a great weekend and I’ll see you next Wednesday.

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